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    US Army Rangers Engaged a Local Gang in a Fierce Gunfight on the Streets of Tacoma

    By Todd Neikirk,


    In the 1980s, American streets were flooded with illicit substances, leading to a surge in gang-related violence. While the nation still faces similar challenges today, particularly with opioids , the epidemic of the 1980s and '90s had its own defining features. A significant incident during this era unfolded in Tacoma, Washington, where a shootout erupted between US Army Rangers and local gang members, highlighting the intensity of the times.

    Staff Sgt. William Foulk bought a house in a rough neighborhood
    The Crips had a large presence in Tacoma, Washington in the 1980s. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

    Army Ranger Staff Sgt. William "Bill" Foulk, assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion and stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington, purchased a house 10 miles away, in Tacoma. The residence, in the city's Hilltop district, was notorious for its rampant gang violence. Despite the area's challenges, Foulk purchased it for a mere $10,000, anticipating its potential for appreciation in the future.

    While Foulk may have perceived the neighborhood as undergoing a transformation, he may not have fully comprehended its dire circumstances. Open transactions and the brazen display of automatic weapons by gang members were commonplace. Known as the " Wild West " of gang shootings, the Hilltop neighborhood epitomized the extreme level of criminal activity in the area.

    Compounded by an understaffed police force, Tacoma lacked the necessary resources to match the firepower wielded by these gangs.

    Houses along the block saw serious gang activity
    In the 1980s, the city of Tacoma was besieged by gang violence. (Photo Credit: Ben Cody / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

    Staff Sgt. Foulk suspected residents of another house on Ash Street, where he lived, were involved in selling illicit substances.

    To gather evidence, he installed a camera in one of his windows. The gang members discovered the surveillance system and tried various methods to disable it, including throwing rotten pears at the camera. When that failed, they resorted to shooting at it.

    Foulk confronted the gang, instructing them to cease their shooting and dealing in the neighborhood. Predictably, they reacted unfavorably, insisting the Army Ranger mind his own business, which he had no intention of doing.

    The Ash Street shootout of 1989
    The firefight on Ash Street was eventually stopped when Tacoma police showed up. (Photo Credit: Wurzer / Getty Images)

    Following his interaction with the gang members, Staff Sgt. Foulk became convinced they may attack him. He sent away his wife and asked his fellow Rangers to come over for a barbecue. Between 10 and 15 obliged and came armed with some serious weaponry. This turned out to be a smart move, as on September 23, 1989, Foulk's residence came under fire.

    The gang was likely shocked when the Army Rangers took up proper defensive positions and returned fire. The fight went on for 10 to 30 minutes, before police officers arrived on the scene and put an end to it. Most of the gang members ran away, but two were detained and charged with assault and weapons offenses.

    The Rangers were not charged, but their weapons were confiscated.

    Aftermath of the shootout
    The Ash Street shootout changed how Tacoma residents approached neighborhood safety. (Photo Credit: Jacob Rose / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

    The most amazing thing about the Ash Street shootout was that no one was killed or hurt, despite over 100 rounds being fired. Maj. Clyde Newman of the 2nd Ranger Battalion said of the incident, "From everything I am told by the city police, the Rangers were right. They were having a party, and they were attacked."

    Sam Thrall, a police sergeant, noted , "I think what happens now is we go up to Ash Street and clean them out... We have a real concentration of bad guys there and the neighborhood has finally clashed with them face to face. The fact that nobody got hurt - it is kind of amazing."

    The incident was a turning point for Tacoma, as it drew attention to the rampant crime in the city. Residents became involved in policing their own neighborhoods and created a safe spaces program that remains in place to this day. City officials also adjusted their budget to ensure additional police officers could be hired.

    The Hilltop neighborhood completely changed
    The Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington has vastly improved. (Photo Credit: Jacob Rose / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

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    The shootout on Ash Street was wild and chaotic, but, eventually, Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood became one of the city's safest. As for Staff Sgt. Foulk, his investment became an incredible success. According to RedFin, the house he purchased for $10,000 is now worth well over what he paid - between $330,000 and $450,000!

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