Why Downtown Seattle Is Still a Drug Supermarket


“Not giving in.” That’s what Wild Ginger owner Rick Yoder said even as the street outside his restaurant filled with tents, drug deals, the distorted dances of addicts on fentanyl, and debris thrown against his windows.  Yoder stayed open.

I take that lesson, not to give in (as so far this city has) to the ever-present dealing and addiction visible daily, still, on some corners of our downtown.

In the photos here, taken just before noon as I walked along Pike between 3rd and 4th, I saw the money changing hands, the drugs disbursed, the fentanyl inhaled by at least a dozen users. All of this was out in the open next to the side windows of Ross Dress for Less.

As I crossed the next street, a Seattle Police patrol car pulled up and much of the crowd moved on, but when I crossed back to talk to the officer there were three or four addicts unfolding the foil, inhaling the drug.

The officer was friendly, and candid. He said using fentanyl is a misdemeanor, hardly ever enforced in favor of offering users therapy if they want — something I’ve never seen done.  Selling the drug is a crime, a felony, but this too is seldom enforced because under the law, a seller must be caught in the act at least four times.  Arrests happen now and then, but the officer admitted that given the SPD shortage of officers, not often. (He actually works West Seattle, but was downtown on overtime.)

The officer knows, and admitted it, as I see from almost daily walks, that when his car pulls away, the same cluster will gather again, the same selling and dealing on a central downtown sidewalk will resume.

I did ask what needs to change. His response — it needs to begin with mayoral and city council leadership, with tougher laws and enforcement.  Will that ever come, finally?  The record of these last three to four years doesn’t suggest a positive answer, but let’s at least do our part as citizens.

My advice: Let City Hall know your frustration, not only at the darker image of our city arising from relatively few downtown blocks (ones that get maximum media and chatter attention), but remembering too that addicts made limp or hyperactive by fentanyl are fellow citizens desperately in need of help that doesn’t come.

Recalling Rick Yoder’s motto, we must be better and not give in.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. Thank you for this, Mike. It saddens me to see my beloved downtown so degraded.

    Detroit, Baltimore, other Eastern cities are resurrecting their historic city centers, through innovative partnerships. Seattle city leadership seems dazed, like the addicts draped over the steps and sprawled on the sidewalks.

  2. The political standoff: retailers call for more cops, which the Mayor can’t get through the council, and the city tells retailers to hire more private security, which they can’t really afford to do. The likely outcome: zones of private security (like the Pike Place Market, Convention Center, Central Waterfront Park, and Seattle Center).

    • When I walk southward down First, Second, or Third Avenue, I will see this scene repeated all the way to Pioneer Square — though not as crowded as Second and Pike, to be sure. I see tourists reeling in shock clutching their suitcases tightly….anyone imagine they will come to Seattle again anytime soon?

      The somnolent City Council seems largely oblivious. I would love to see them walk from City Hall, accompanied by a news crew, and have them explain on camera why this status quo is acceptable.

  3. Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Deborah Juarez and Ann Davison are working uphill to increase public safety, for as long as sitting city council members remain. In 2023, seven of the nine city council members — all police defunders – are up for election – Sawant, Herbold, Lewis, Morales and Strauss need to go.. where are the qualified moderate candidates to run against them?

    • Yes, thanks for clarifying that there are some in city and county who are working to make the city safer. In particular, I’m glad that Ann Davison was elected, and that former governors Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke, both actively campaigned for her.

  4. The sidewalks of downtown are an EXCELLENT place for dope dealers, dope buyers, and the fencing of shoplifted goods to finance that trade. The reasons for that are 1) all the transit service brings in the participants for that illegal market, and 2) downtown offices are not being used much so office workers no longer crowd out drug trade participants.

  5. It’s now 11 years since I left the city I had lived in and loved for almost four decades. Now living in a small town in the southeast corner of the state, I’m long past grieving for the Seattle I once knew that no longer exists. Whatever those of you living on the west side may think about eastern Washington, in many ways I have found it’s a safer, cleaner and more friendly place to call home. From a distance now Seattle seems stuck in the grip of ‘woke’ (or whatever you call it) thinking that still believes defunding the police was a good idea and that all addicts need is a helping hand.

  6. “… because under the law, a seller must be caught in the act at least four times.”

    I’d sure appreciate it if someone could name the law that sets this peculiar standard. In the case of felony offenses, I assume state law from Olympia (for you out there who are prone to blaming law enforcement problems on the city council.)

  7. I think the point is that the City of Seattle by an 8-1 vote, cut the police budget, a move roundly criticized by outgoing mayor Durkan.

  8. So Council funds enough cops and jails, changes the law to add felonies to the books and the population of addicts will be solved? Move along maybe? Seems simplistic to me. This problem runs far deeper than missing enforcement.


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