We're so used to the modern incarnation of shooting coverage that we never think about how odd it truly is. Things always begin with reports on Twitter of gunshots, followed by dribbling pieces of "news" — some true, many false — from eyewitnesses and local news reporters. The body count goes up and down, depending on the source. Eventually, we learn about the shooter — always a man, usually with a domestic violence incident or two in his past — and people mumble about his motive and send their respects for the dead before their attention turns elsewhere. Eventually, the whole cycle begins again — every time we respond with a certain shock and newness, as though we all suffer from collective amnesia.
From 2015 to 2016, local writer Marti Jonjak published an astonishing weekly series at McSweeney’s about a man who shot two people at the Twilight Exit and then was killed by police. Jonjak's plan was simple, yet somehow entirely revolutionary: she decided to talk to the witnesses about what they saw, to return the story to the people who experienced the violence, rather than allowing the shooter to hijack the narrative.
Jonjak opens a column in October 2015 like this:
I’m meeting Dave for this interview at Vito’s, a scary and wonderful dive bar with gold-foil mirrors and meaty couches and red leather everywhere. He’s not here yet, so I sit alone on a barstool and stare at the walls. Vito’s was the scene of a murder several years ago. It’s something I’ve always wondered about. The story didn’t get a lot of news coverage, but according to rumor, the victim had gang ties. He’d recently messed with somebody and had been laying low, but his favorite band was playing, and he had to see them. It might’ve taken place on the crowded dance floor, I don’t know, but he was shot in the head. I wish I knew exactly where it happened. This question settles heavily over every surface. As I wait, it grows larger and larger, filling up the room.
Even in a relatively safe city like Seattle, there's a map of violence laid over our grid of streets. She's meeting a survivor of a shooting at a bar with a shooting in its recent past. There are so many shootings, in fact, that we can't keep track of them all. Many of them are lost to gossip and conjecture and some of them are forgotten entirely.
But Jonjak has done what she can to make sure that doesn't happen to the shooting at the Twilight Exit: she devoted herself to one crime, one narrative, to ensure that the story is completely told. Tonight, Jonjak is joined at the Hugo House by former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper to talk about that night and the aftereffects of violent crime. It's a capstone to a remarkable project from a remarkable writer, though hopefully this is not the end of the story — if some editor or agent hasn't approached Jonjak to expand her column into a book-length final statement, perhaps the publishing industry deserves to die.
Hugo House, 1021 Columbia St., 322-7030, http://hugohouse.org. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.