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Originally published Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 4:12 PM

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Seattle shootings: It's time to come together and face our fears

The recent Seattle shootings, including the shooting of Justin Ferrari, has Principal Kaaren Andrews thinking how people should change how they view the causes of street violence.

Special to The Times

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I HAVEN'T been able to stop thinking about the shooting death of Justin Ferrari. As a parent of two young children, I fear what would happen to my children if they witnessed my partner's or my untimely death. As a Seattle Public Schools principal and former Madrona K-8 School principal, I fear that everything I believe in and have worked for could crumble under the weight of this tragedy.

I hear my friends and colleagues explain the tragedy as well as the other shootings Seattle has experienced this week as weighty because it involves us. Implied here is the white, middle-class "us". I understand this. I am white and middle class. I have always viewed violence in Seattle as very targeted and exclusive of families like mine.

As I heard myself explaining this to friends visiting from Boston last Thursday night, I started listening to what I was saying. "Don't worry — violence in Seattle is targeted between individuals and rival gangs. Those of us not part of it, stay outside of it."

Wow. What privilege that is! I work all day, every day, to empower youth who have not been supported adequately by our comprehensive schools — youth who are involved in the legal system, youth who are homeless, teen parents, struggling with addiction. I believe deeply in the power of individuals to change, and the role education can play in this metamorphosis. I have seen it happen.

Why then am I struggling?

It hit me tonight. I am struggling because we are not differently involved than the gang members who are shot at every day. We are not different from those who are shooting every day. They, too, are victims. Victims of the failure of our society to show them another way, to teach them how to find a job that allows them to earn an "honest" wage, to teach them to believe that it is possible.

I have heard too many youth tell me that they have lost hope. Home is broken. School doesn't make sense. The streets offer something that promises a way out, at least friendship and identity.

We have to figure out how to compete. The youth we are leaving behind are worth it. What scares me most about Mr. Ferrari's death is that it threatens to separate us further from each other. It makes us question whether we can live side by side and trust each other.

I ask every one of you to think differently, as I commit to doing so myself. Instead of thinking that Mr. Ferrari's death is different because he did not choose a life of street violence, think that no one chooses a life of street violence.

We all want safety, happiness, hope. It is the absence of belief that these things are possible that lead us to shooting at each other across the street and killing a community member who represents safety, happiness and hope.

It is time to come together and face our fears as one, not in fear of what we do not understand. Seattle, we are ready.

Kaaren Andrews is principal of Interagency Academy, network of small alternative high schools in Seattle Public Schools.

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