Things just felt safer a couple years ago, back when Jennifer Dietrich opened Dr. Jen’s House of Beauty in Capitol Hill. But then her clients, mainly drag and burlesque performers, started enduring threats and assaults on neighborhood streets. Dietrich herself was attacked last November, just blocks from her shop. Then after two high-profile cases late last winter—one assault and one rape—she’d had enough. Out Watch, Dietrich’s volunteer organization of late-night, four-person patrols will hit the street in earnest this summer. It’s been hailed as a reinvention of Q-Patrol, which did virtually the same thing for the neighborhood’s gay residents in the early ’90s, but Dietrich’s out to protect an even bigger community: everyone.
When I first came down here, I didn’t see a lot of what I’m seeing now. And I was at Pike and Broadway, so I was right in the thick of it, with herds of drunk people walking by the store. But weirdly, herds of drunk people walking by is a lot safer than where I am right now, where at night it’s just superquiet and supersketchy.
I feel pretty safe in general. I did grow up kind of punk rock. But there are a lot of people who don’t feel that way. Especially my burlesque performer clients. They’re coming home from shows at three o’clock in the morning in a full face of stage makeup and carrying all of their sparkly bits. And they’re always harassed. Always.
It really hit home last spring when an employee of mine got attacked. He’d left the store to walk home and get ready for an event we were doing that night. It was like 3:30 in the afternoon. He walked through the Seattle Central campus to get to his house and got attacked by a dude who stole his phone. And 20 people stood there and watched. No one called the cops. Nobody took pictures. I was just floored. It was like, Oh my god, this is in the middle of the day—on a college campus. What?
Pretty much everyone I know who lives and works down here has a story that starts, “Oh yeah, that time I got jumped on the Hill….” Everyone. And that’s horrifying. Just sit for a second and let that wash over you.
It’s so frustrating to have these problems and have your hands tied and feel like you’re not getting the support from the police, like you’re not getting support from the city.
Someone formed a Facebook page called Take Back the Hill because everybody was worried about the violence. And a couple people were talking about Q-Patrol, so I was like, “What’s Q-Patrol?” “Oh, it was this neighborhood watch.” And I thought, That’s a fantastic idea; let’s do that.
Q-Patrol was the LGBTQ community taking a stand. And while we are fully inclusive of the LGBTQ community, my concern is safety. I don’t care if you’re gay or if you’re straight or if you’re a douchey bro from Belltown. I just don’t want people to get attacked on the street.
It turned out to be a surprisingly large organizational undertaking. We’re going to have a dispatcher who will coordinate the patrols, but then where do we put that dispatcher? And then there are shifts, from 10pm to 1am, and then 1 to 4. So at one o’clock, we have to have room for 25 people to show up and turn in their mace and get checked out, and 25 more people show up and get their mace checked out. And then it was trying to get -everybody to dress the same. We talked about wearing berets, and people were like, “I’m not wearing a beret.” Just shut up; I’ll rhinestone it. Can we stop arguing about the fashion?
Dave Meinert said, “I’ll write you a check right now. What do you need?” And a lot of other business owners have pledged help. We have a T-shirt company that’s going to make our T-shirts. One gentleman, who I believe helped train some of the Q-Patrol folks, said he’ll do self-defense classes. We want to pick up performers from venues and take them wherever they need to go; Michael Wells, the head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, went and talked to Zipcar before I had a chance to ask. My plan was to start calling people and say, “Hey….” But they totally beat me to it.
Ultimately what I want is asses on the street walking around, having a presence, trying to make it safer. And once we get that going and we’ve done it without incident or problem, I’ll go to the police and say, “Look, we’re doing this thing. It’s not creating any additional problems for you. How can we work together?” And I’ll try very hard not to sound very bitchy about the fact that they’re never, ever out at night. Really. I’ll practice it in the mirror.
Once the community starts seeing the patrols, then it’s in their mind that something’s being done to keep them safe. It’s pretty in my world. It’s glittery; there are rainbows and unicorns and things. So I like to think that by seeing that, people will start helping each other. There won’t be a situation where someone is getting robbed at knifepoint in front of 20 people who are doing nothing.
I don’t want to sit around and talk about my feelings about what happened to people. Other people can do that. I want to go do some stuff to make it better. Other people can have the candlelight vigils and weep and hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I don’t fuck around.