Donnie Chin, director of International District Emergency Center (IDEC), was killed by gunfire early Thursday morning, July 23, while in his car at 8th Avenue and South Lane Street in the International District.
When word that Chin had been shot first began to circulate, it was still unclear for many whether he had survived the shooting. Members of Seattle’s API community communicated via telephone, text message, and email in preparation for the worst. Once confirmation of Chin’s death was made, emotions of grief were joined by frustration at the lack of details surrounding his death and anger directed toward a lack of police presence in the neighborhood.
At 5:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim moderated a community information meeting headed by the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department, for the first time that day offering confirmed details of the shooting. The meeting was coordinated with the help of SCIDpda executive director Maiko Winkler-Chin and held in SCIDpda’s Legacy Hall. The meeting was held in both English and Chinese.
Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw were in attendance. Washington State Sen. Bob Hasegawa and Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos were also present.
Deputy Mayor Kim struggled to choke back tears, saying: “Donnie Chin’s death has obviously had a profound impact on this neighborhood and in this city.”
Kim said she recognized the incredible grief, sadness, and outrage felt by the community. She asked for the community’s patience as the investigation is ongoing, but said that SPD and city officials were here to answer questions as best as they could.
SPD Deputy Chief Carmen Best assured the community that SPD would “leave no stone unturned” and do everything in their power “to bring these criminals to justice.”
SPD Captain Chris Fowler, Commander of the West Precinct responsible for the International District, also spoke. He said that while the SPD did not yet have all the answers, they would say as much as they could.
SPD Assistant Chief Bob Merner is in charge of the investigation. At the meeting, he outlined the following series of events for the community:
• At about 2:50 a.m. on July 23, 911 received multiple calls reporting the sound of gunshots in the area of 8th Avenue and Lane Street and 7th Avenue and Lane Street.
• Multiple units from the West Precinct were dispatched and arrived at the scene, where they found Chin suffering from gunshot wounds.
• Officers, with the assistance of a civilian passerby, conducted emergency medical care, and Chin was put in an ambulance.
• Chin was then transferred to Harborview Medical Center, where shortly after he succumbed to his wounds and was pronounced dead.
• The crime scene was processed by the homicide unit. They found multiple vehicles and forensic evidence. Forensic testing has been expedited for this case, but it’s still early. The SPD also conducted interviews of people in the area early this morning. Some video evidence has since been recovered from the area, and police are searching to see if useful images can be found. Assistant Chief Merner requested that any private photos or videos be submitted to the homicide unit. Alternatively, community members can call the tip line at 800-222-TIPS or 206-233-5000. Deputy Chief Best also requested that people tell them anything they know—don’t assume they already know it, as any bit of information can end up being very valuable in putting the pieces together in the investigation. Many of the officers had been working since 3:30 a.m., and would continue working into the night, Merner said.
The floor was then opened up for questions.
Someone in the audience asked to hear comments from the fire department. SFD Deputy Chief Bryan Hastings said, “Donnie was a great man,” and that everyone in the Fire Department would deeply miss him.
SFD Lieutenant Don Peterson said: “All of us … who have had the honor of serving this community, we loved Donnie Chin as much as you. … It’s impossible to say how many times or how many of us, but we do know that he saved our lives.”
The firefighters present said they would always remember and miss him, which received applause from those in attendance at the meeting.
Attention turns to hookah bars
International Community Health Services CEO Teresita Batayola described Chin as “hyper vigilant about the area where he died,” as that corner is home to Legacy House where there are elders, Denise Louie Education Center where there are children, and ICHS.
Batayola also said that Chin was constantly concerned about the hookah bars in that area and the clientele they brought to the neighborhood late at night. “Part of his warning [about the clubs] was that something really ugly will happy to one of us, and it was him,” Batayola said, holding back tears. She asked what the city would do to respond to this.
Captain Fowler said SPD understands that the hookah bars are a constant challenge because when they close and patrons leave, it’s often around 4:00 a.m., which is the time that police patrols are most short-staffed. Fowler said there was a meeting last month with some of the hookah bars in Seattle in an effort to work with them to minimize the negative impact they cause. There is also currently an effort to collect statistical data on the hookah bars.
There was a question from the audience about whether Chin’s death was intentional or targeted. SPD said it’s still too early to tell.
Local activist Doug Chin of OCA—Greater Seattle asked how many times Donnie Chin was shot and if there were any leads. SPD said that they would never give out the number of shots to protect the integrity of the investigation, and that they were following all leads that arose and would keep the community updated on what happens.
There was pressure from the audience to make this investigation their highest priority. SPD said it is, noting they’ve expedited all of the evidence analysis.
The International Examiner asked SPD to confirm reports from one news source that indicated that Donnie Chin might have been shot from a rooftop, and that shots were fired between two “rival groups.” SPD said that while the initial call suggested that shots may have come from a rooftop, evidence later indicated that that was not the case. SPD said that at this moment, they can confirm that there was more than one shooter based on the number of shots fired, but it is not clear in what context shots were being fired.
SPD said it would be ramping up police presence for the next seven-to-10 days in the ID from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.
Members of the community expressed a desire for hookah bars to be closed and that they feel “unsafe” late at night around clientele who gather outside of the establishments.
Community members also expressed frustration that police only arrive after a crime has been committed, but there is little in the way of preventive efforts.
The International Examiner asked the elected officials present if they would support a proposition or other legal action to close the hookah bars in Seattle.
Councilmember Burgess said he would definitely support the closing of hookah bars, and spoke about his 2009 Chronic Nuisance Ordinance, which makes property owners responsible for what happens on their property. Burgess said Mayor Murray is committed to using the ordinance to effectively produce a safer city.
Councilmember Harrell said: “The short answer is, yes, … I don’t like hookah bars, I don’t go to hookah bars.” Harrell said he discourages his children from going to them. But he also said that part of the ID’s greatness comes in welcoming diverse cultures. Harrell said he would support actions to close and to regulate hookah establishments.
Councilmember Bagshaw said she would also support civilian action to close hookah bars in Seattle.“We have a community that deserves to be safe,” she said.
Following the councilmember’s pledges, Donnie Chin’s sister, Connie Chin, spoke to those in attendance. She thanked everyone for coming, and cried while thanking the police and fire department for their support. She shared memories of Donnie’s dedication to the community.
Moments after Connie Chin’s speech, attention returned to the closure of the hookah bars.
Activist Bob Santos said that he and fellow activist Doug Chin have both been arrested in the past by the SPD during nonviolent protests. He asked that the SPD not arrest them in the future if they are nonviolently trying to close down hookah bars. “We’re not the bad guys,” Santos said as community members cheered.
Seattle food anthropologist Max Chan spoke next. She said that things haven’t changed much since the Wah Mee massacre. Chan said that back then, after the murder of 13 people in the Wah Mee gambling club in the International District in 1983, the police increased patrols for a while, and there were talks with the community, but there were no lasting policy changes. Chan said that things once again will just be more secure for seven-to-10 days before an insufficient police presence returns.
“What are the lasting policies that are going to come out of that?” Chan said. She expressed anger that “Donnie had to die” in order for this community meeting about public safety to happen and be taken seriously by the SPD.
Members of the community also called for institutional changes in the SPD and expressed frustration that the city didn’t better fund or support IDEC.
One police officer in the back of the room, who was visibly shaken with emotion, asked for a moment of silence for Donnie Chin.
Rep. Tomiko-Santos said of Donnie’s death: “We lost our liaison, a critical link to city services. … We need to know that you’re going to support the IDEC.” She expressed a need to continue this dialogue, and for the SPD to keep the community regularly updated about what they find out.
Several community events have been scheduled in the aftermath of Chin’s death:
A Nonviolent Rally Against Hookah Bars
Friday, July 24. Meet up at 10:30 p.m. March begins at 11:00 p.m.
Starts at Bush Garden Parking Lot and heads toward 8th Avenue S and S Lane Street
‘Uncle’ Bob Santos will be leading a rally against having hookah bars in the International District neighborhood. SPD will be present to protect residents and protesters. For more details, call 206 679-8928.
Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Donnie Chin
Sunday, July 26 from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
A candlelight vigil will honor Donnie Chin, who protected the International District’s residents for almost 50 years. Gathering will begin at 8:00 p.m. Speeches and vigil will start at 9:00 p.m. and complete around 10:00 p.m. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We are accepting food donations from restaurants for community members after the vigil. Contact email@example.com to donate.
Thank You Donnie Chin: A Community BBQ
Tuesday, July 28 at 6:00 p.m.
Sun May, 5 Canton Alley, Seattle, WA 98104
To honor the legacy of Donnie Chin, a community barbecue will be hosted in Canton Alley in front of Sun May. This is a potluck style event. Attendees may bring food if able. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/723139637832582/.