Simone Alicea | KNKX

Simone Alicea

Business & Labor Reporter

A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times. 

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Left: Eugene Youngblood during a 2018 interview with Rooted in Rights. Right: Vincent Sherill during a 2008 Black Prisoners Caucus summit. Both men are incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
via Youtube

As protests against racism and police brutality raged last summer, one group of activists could only look on from afar.

“Of course you want to be there,” Vincent Sherrill told KNKX from the Monroe Correctional Complex in September. “Then, to be truthful, there’s guilt and shame along with that for putting yourself in this situation.”

Prisoners and outside guests at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen open a Black History Month event with a prayer.
Simone Alicea / KNKX

Author’s note: I attended this event at Stafford Creek Corrections Center just three days before Washington announced the nation's first death from COVID-19. Less than a month later, outside visitors were banned from prisons to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Prisoners remain isolated today with limited activities, and COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly at Stafford Creek and other state prisons. I've thought about this story a lot over the course of 2020 because, in some ways, it reminds me of those simpler pre-pandemic days: It's about coming together to celebrate and grieve, to share a meal, hear beautiful music and exchange ideas. But, as with many stories set in prison, it was also a window into all of the social ills that have become so apparent this year: poverty, racism, violence and injustice. In what is hopefully the twilight of this pandemic and as we yearn to return to "normal," this story reminds me to challenge that idea and reimagine what "normal" might be. (This story originally aired Feb. 27, 2020.) 

The long-vacant Gault Middle School building in Tacoma.
Will James / KNKX

They briefly occupied an abandoned middle school, hoping to make it into housing. They dumped trash on the steps of Tacoma’s city hall, urging trash collection at encampments. And now a group pushing for better housing in the city says it plans something on Christmas Day, too.

King County Council Member Girmay Zahilay speaks at Franklin High School in Seattle in February 2020.
Courtesy of King County

It has been an intense first year in office for King County Council Member Girmay Zahilay.

"I think I would describe it the same way everyone would describe their year," Zahilay told KNKX in an interview. "And that is: madness."

Nicholas K. Geranios / The Associated Press file

A prisoner at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen has died from COVID-19. The Department of Corrections did not identify the inmate in a news release. But the person is the fourth in the state’s prisons to die from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. 

Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles FC players kneel on the field before an MLS playoff soccer match Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

A group of Seattle sports professionals is hoping to go beyond game-day displays in the fight for social justice and make a more local impact. They're calling themselves the Athletic Justice Collective, or AJC.

Sameth Mell is project director with Partners in Change, a division of the Equity in Education Coalition. He organizes around pandemic issues in King County.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Throughout the pandemic, local grassroots organizations have stepped up to help people in need, by getting people things like food, child care or rental assistance. They’re often trying to fill the gaps left by federal and local governments. 

This work likely will be impacted by the outcome of Tuesday's election.

A postmarked vote-by-mail ballot is shown at the King County election headquarters in Renton, Wash., Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Over the past few years, Washington Democrats seem to have solidified their power in the state. They have a majority in both legislative chambers. They make up most of our Congressional delegation. And they hold most statewide offices.

That puts local Republicans in a tough position going into this year's elections.

The West Seattle Bridge is seen looking east April 15, 2020, following an emergency closure several weeks earlier.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's decision on whether to replace or repair the West Seattle Bridge will be delayed until after the election, due to uncertainty over federal funding after the Trump administration declared the city an "anarchist jurisdiction."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks about the coronavirus during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Washington.
Alex Brandon / The Associated Press

Both of Washington's U.S. senators are Democrats, putting them in their chamber's minority. That puts them in a tough position as the Senate seeks to confirm President Donald Trump's third Supreme Court nominee.

A bed sits made at a long-term care center in Rockland, Mass., back in March. Long-term care facilities in Washington state and across the country have been particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic.
David Goldman / The Associated Press (file)

For months, long-term care facilities in Washington were closed not only to visitors but also to state regulatory authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These facilities were early hotspots, driving the nation's coronavirus death toll this spring.

That posed a big problem for the staff and volunteers of Washington's long-term care ombuds office.

"For our role, visitation is key," ombuds Patricia Hunter told KNKX. 

Cargo cranes at the Port of Seattle are seen from downtown, masked in smoke, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. The smoke is just one of many issues the city is grappling with this summer.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

The City of Seattle is facing no shortage of challenges right now. In addition to lingering smoke and the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders also are grappling with a major bridge closure, a crumbling pier and a battle over policing.

All of these things will play some role in the city budget, which is facing a more than $300 million shortfall.

A man holds a sign that says "Community safety, not police domination" during a protest in Tacoma on June 5, 2020.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Like many cities across Washington, Tacoma is gearing up for a difficult budget season. The city is facing a $67 million shortfall. Many residents also are pushing new priorities, like reducing funding for the police department in favor of spending money elsewhere.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards has encouraged the public to get involved in the budget process. The city put out surveys and a new online tool that allowed people to build a budget.

A trio of dogs peer out of the back, open window of a vehicle while on an outing Friday, April 3, 2020, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

UPDATE, 6 a.m. Sept. 10: Friday's pop-up event has been postponed due to wildfire conditions. You can find an up-to-date calendar of future events here.

Local animal shelters in King County have banded together to create a mobile pet food bank to help owners feed their animals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several organizations offer pet food to owners who need it. But after animal shelters initially closed in response to Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-home order, they decided to get out into the community with a truck and a tent.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

This story was updated at 2:40 p.m. Aug. 24.

UPDATE: Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault during his arraignment Monday. Bail was set at $500,000 for Nelson, who shot and killed 26-year old Jesse Sarey during an arrest in May last year.

King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Galván took issue with the assessment that Nelson should be released without bail. The prosecutor argued that the officer didn’t pose a threat since he was no longer on duty.

Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez leads a virtual council meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.
Seattle Channel

Seattle leaders were busy last week. The City Council passed a budget rebalancing package that includes cuts to the Seattle Police Department. A day later, Police Chief Carmen Best confirmed she is retiring effective Sept. 2.

The budget cuts included a reduction in the chief's salary and that of her command staff and a plan to reduce the department by up to 100 officers through layoffs and attrition. 

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, center, speaks as Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, left, and Deputy Police Chief Adrian Diaz, right, look on during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The announced retirement of Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best is yet another challenge for the city, as leaders pledge to reimagine public safety in response to ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism. 

A man in a face mask walks through the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Wash, Friday April 9, 2020.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Washington is among the states where COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. Over the past couple of weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee has been visiting hot spots in central and eastern parts of the state to talk about the local response.

Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins has been covering the state's pandemic response. He talked about the latest with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick. Listen to their conversation above or read the transcript below, which has been edited for clarity.

Nikkita Oliver speaks at a rally before a march to Seattle City Hall Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Recent shootings in Seattle near the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, are prompting questions about public safety. Over the weekend, one man was killed and two others were injured. A fourth man was shot early Tuesday.

Attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver says people should not use the shootings to discount the demands of protesters, pointing out that violence had been a problem in the Capitol Hill neighborhood before the protests began, while the East Precinct was fully staffed.

A person kneels with their fist in the air at a June 5, 2020, demonstration against police brutality in Tacoma
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Now that Gov. Jay Inslee has said he will ensure an independent investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards is outlining her hopes for what that will look like.

"That we get a fair, independent, clean investigation," Woodards told KNKX. "That we trust the agency who’s doing it, we trust that they can do it fairly, and we trust that they can get it done in a reasonable amount of time. "

Ellis died in March after being restrained by Tacoma police officers. His death has been ruled a homicide.

John Gaines is a Tacoma-based mentor and motivational speaker.
Courtesy of John Gaines

Ongoing protests against police brutality are bringing much needed attention to racism in America. But all that attention can take a huge mental toll.

"As men, especially as Black men, we don't do a good enough job of talking about mental health," said John Gaines.

Gaines is a Tacoma-based motivational speaker and mentor who works primarily with young Black men. He spoke with KNKX's Simone Alicea about how he is thinking about this moment. Listen to their conversation above. 

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards speaks during a demonstration over the weekend in response to last week's killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Will James / KNKX

At an event initially organized to highlight racial dispartities in the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of demonstrators in Tacoma also protested police violence on Saturday, highlighting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

At People's Park, Mayor Victoria Woodards addressed the crowd.

"This week has been especially hard. And I don't have to tell you why because you already know," Woodards said. "But what I will say is: Enough is enough."

The view down 11th Street from Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma on March 15, 2020.
Tom Collins / KNKX

Washington cities are spending a lot of money to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reduced business activity is putting a damper on tax revenue. In Tacoma, leaders are looking at a $40 million shortfall in the general fund.

Isaac Lopez, 19, right, and his mother, Antonia Zamorano, center, work in a Tacos El Tajin food truck in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. Isaac's father, Thomas Lopez, died from COVID-19 on April 2, 2020.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

By the time Thomas Lopez died of COVID-19 on April 2, social distancing had taken hold in Washington. But the disparate effects the disease was having on the state’s Latino population was not yet clear.

The data that have emerged since then are stark. Latinos only make up about 13 percent of Washington's population. But they make up more than a third of the state's COVID-19 cases. 

The West Seattle Bridge is seen looking east following an emergency closure several weeks earlier, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

It’s been two months since city officials abruptly closed the West Seattle Bridge due to widening cracks that could lead to collapse. But the future of the roadway remains unclear.

That uncertainty is a big problem for travelers around the region, including the nearly 93,000 people who live in West Seattle.

Adrian Florez / KNKX


As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, some clear patterns have emerged. One is that people of color are being affected by this virus at higher rates than white people. 

In Washington state, the disparities are especially stark among the Latino population.

More than a third of the state's COVID-19 cases have been Latino, which is way out of proportion to their 13 percent share of the general population.

In this photo taken Oct. 15, 2019, workers sort Granny Smith apples to ready them for shipping in a packing plant in Yakima, Wash.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Yakima County has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections among counties on the West Coast. That means a larger portion of the county's population has tested positive for the coronavirus compared to other counties.

A special enrollment period for health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic is about to end in Washington.

The deadline to sign up for a plan through the state’s health benefit exchange is Friday.

Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer for the exchange, says the special enrollment period first opened in March following the governor’s emergency declaration. It was extended in April.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak Monday, March 16, 2020, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

As state leaders lay out a post-pandemic plan, Washington’s largest city is also preparing. Seattle faces several challenges in this phase of the crisis, including fatigue from city residents remaining at home.

Participants in the March for Immigration and Workers Right traveled throughout Seattle downtown Tuesday afternoon for May Day 2018.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Normally tens of thousands of people would gather on May Day in the Puget Sound region for various events and causes. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor's ban on large gatherings is putting a damper on some of the usual scheduled marches, while also prompting other types of demonstrations.