Yakima gunshot victim calls for compassion toward shooter, warns against racial bias

Family speaks out about white privilege, racial bias and gun violence

YAKIMA, Wash. — A Yakima man paralyzed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend is asking the community to have compassion for the two young Latino men accused in his shooting.

While recovering from surgery, dealing with medical bills and trying to plan for the future after doctors told him he may never walk again, 35-year-old Jonathan Spear and his family found time to craft a more than 1,000 word statement on privilege, racial bias and gun violence.

“They kind of had a round table just talking about so many issues of white privilege — how our situation is playing out differently than it might in a less affluent neighborhood,” said Caleb Spear, Jonathan’s brother.

Yakima police have arrested a 19-year-old man accused of shooting Jonathan and a 22-year-old man accused of assisting in the crime by driving the vehicle used in the shooting. Both are in the Yakima County jail awaiting criminal charges.

The statement was put together by Jonathan, his pregnant wife, Valerie, and their housemates — who call their household Familia Hope, after their beloved dog, Hope and because they are all committed Spanish language learners.

“The name is taking on a new layer of meaning now and we are embracing it with everything we’ve got,” the statement said.

Read the full statement on the family’s GoFundMe page here.

Outrage at shooting in ‘safe’ Yakima neighborhood, but apathy toward gun violence in ‘unsafe’ neighborhoods

In the statement, family members said their story — as a white family in a “safe” neighborhood  —is being told differently than  stories of other families affected by gun violence who live in more low-income or racially diverse areas.

The shooting took place near South 24th and West Chestnut avenues in the Barge Chestnut neighborhood, which is predominantly white and tends to experience less violent crime than in predominantly Spanish-speaking and lower-income housing areas a couple miles away in East Yakima.

Jonathan and Valerie Spear

Spear Family

“Our neighborhood feels terrified this week because the violence Jonathan experienced was so unusual and unexpected,” family members said in the statement. “Yet, what must it be like to live in a neighborhood where gun violence is commonplace, something you are anticipating with dread regularly?”

The statement said while low-income neighborhoods tend to experience more violence, they’re not much different from other neighborhoods; all of them have families, parents and children living their lives.

“Yet so many of us in Barge Chestnut get the paper, read about a shooting, see the words, ‘gang-related’ and don’t even finish reading the article,” family members said in the statement.

Local police have previously told KAPP-KVEW that Yakima has a gang violence problem and those violent incidents are frequent enough that the community no longer reacts with shock or outrage when a shooting or killing is connected to gangs.

Despite the arrests made in Jonathan’s case, investigators have been unable to determine a motive. Family members said while the lack of motive makes this a seemingly random shooting in a safe neighborhood, it doesn’t make their pain greater than other families who have to anticipate and fear violence in their area.

“A death or injury from gun violence is equally life-altering and painful regardless of whether the person who hurt you had a ‘motive’ or not,” family members said in the statement.

‘We do not want our story to be one that reinforces racism or subconscious racial bias’

In the statement, family members said  they do not want others to use their story to add to false narratives about gun violence and crime that harm people of color and help reinforce structural inequality.

“We do not want Black and Brown people to be viewed as the ‘bad guys’ while we as a white family are viewed as the ‘deserving victims,'” family members said in the statement.

Family members said they’ve been thinking a lot during this trying time about the role of white privilege and class privilege in the way they are experiencing this and that those issues are close to their hearts.

“We see how, as a result of our whiteness, we have personal resources, and proximity to others with resources, that eases the material pain and stress of this time,” family members said in the statement.

When looking at the big picture, the family said they want their story to prompt people to have greater conversations surrounding the intersection of white privilege, racial bias, structural inequality and gun violence.

We feel anger, grief, and sorrow that is deeper than anything we have ever known. And we ache more than ever to see the big picture, to see this gun violence in the context of a systemic problem and to desire structural accountability. For us, “accountability” does not come through punishment of the person who did this simply for the sake of “justice”. For us structural accountability means sensible, equitable gun control, meaningful mental health treatment, supportive educational systems, support for families, and an end to the exploitation of Black and Brown low-wage workers. We ask all of you who are supporting us to open your hearts to the bigger picture of why this violence happened in the first place. Not why a person took this particular action, but why it is possible in a country and a state and a city as wealthy as ours, that people can still find themselves with so little to lose that they commit the kind of harm that happened in our front yard.

Jonathan Spear

Spear Family/GoFundMe

Family encourages compassion for shooters, not just shooting victims

Family members said while the criminal justice system requires consequences, they want their story to be one of restoration and hope, rather than of anger and punishment.

Two young Latino men were arrested by police this week. Learning of their arrests did not feel like good news for us. It made us feel heartbroken. Hearing about increased police presence in our neighborhood did not feel like good news for us. It made us feel heartbroken. Knowing that these men face a racially biased criminal (in)justice system and a broken incarceration system that doesn’t offer rehabilitation or healing, doesn’t feel like good news to us. It makes us feel heartbroken.

While they still don’t know why Jonathan was shot, family members said they are heartbroken for the two men arrested and for whatever circumstances in their lives may have led them to this point.

“Healthy people don’t shoot people, broken people shoot people,” the family said on their GoFundMe page. “An action like this is often preceded by a lifetime of hurt, of loss, of anger, and of brokenness…broken homes, domestic abuse, addiction, disappointment etc.”

Family members said while they do hope the suspects are brought to justice, they hope the two young men will be able to heal and piece their lives back together.

We ask all of you who are supporting us to open your hearts to the bigger picture of why this violence happened in the first place. Not why a person took this particular action, but why it is possible in a country and a state and a city as wealthy as ours, that people can still find themselves with so little to lose that they commit the kind of harm that happened in our front yard

Family members ask that the same community members supporting them through this process to see the men who were arrested as people who have also been hurt and to think of ways they can help to disrupt structural inequality in Yakima.

Reimagining an unexpected future for their family, thankful for Yakima community’s support

The family has received countless offers of help from community members over the past five days and has received overwhelming financial support through their GoFundMe page.

As of Thursday evening, more than 900 people had donated over $142,000 to help pay for medical bills and expenses while Jonathan recovers and adjusts to a life with altered mobility.

“We are overwhelmed and deeply moved by the outpouring of love, prayers, and support for Jonathan and Val that is flowing in from all over the country,” family members said in the statement. “It is a balm and a source of relief. There truly are no words to express how thankful we feel. Mil gracias.”

People have reached out to help garden and to supply the family with painters and painting supplies to help repaint their house — a project Jonathan was looking forward to working on prior to the shooting.

It is also difficult to describe what it has been like in the past five days to try and process this life-changing and heartbreaking experience, while also staying focused on Val’s pregnancy and Jonathan’s recovery. Val and Jonathan are courageously setting their sights on the horizons of possibility that lie ahead. Dreaming of everything from adaptive nordic sit-skis, to adaptive mountain biking and imagining many other creative, resilient future family adventures. We are rooting ourselves in gratitude that Jonathan is alive.


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