Around 60 members of the Chinatown-International District community attended a reception held by the CID public safety steering committee on Thursday, May 11 at the Four Seas Restaurant. The goal of the reception was to celebrate the neighborhood’s public safety efforts and new partnerships between the City and the neighborhood, according to Sonny Nguyen, who began their job as public safety coordinator for the neighborhood this spring.
The reception was also an opportunity to introduce community members and stakeholders to the three staff members recently hired by the City of Seattle. Alongside public safety coordinator Nguyen, these are Department of Neighborhoods Community Projects Manager Ben Han and Seattle Police Department CID Community Engagement and Outreach Specialist Vicky Li.
Each of the three staff members—who Nguyen calls the “public safety trinity”—briefly spoke at the reception, as did community leader and ICHS Foundation executive director Ron Chew, Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, City Councilmember Lorena González, and Assistant Seattle Police Chief Robert Merner.
At the opening of the reception, Nguyen noted the historic nature of their new job, a position that’s unique among neighborhoods in the city, and one which was the result of over a year and a half of community efforts to deal with public safety problems in the CID.
“It’s been a long time coming for a job like mine to show up,” Nguyen said. “We’re super excited to move forward and figure out what we do next.”
The reception was held close to the two-year anniversary of the murder of Donnie Chin, the beloved public safety champion for the neighborhood and founder of the International District Emergency Center (IDEC).
“Im reminded and saddened that we’re now approaching the second anniversary of Donnie’s murder in July,” Chew said. “I remain optimistic that we can continue to do a lot more for this neighborhood that we care so much about.”
Chew was one of 19 community leaders and business owners who served as a member of the CID Public Safety Task Force, assembled by Mayor Ed Murray at the beginning of 2016.
The task force was co-chaired by Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, who has a history working in the CID. Before she became Deputy Mayor, Kim worked in the neighborhood as executive director of the InterIm CDA, an affordable housing and community development organization.
Kim said that when she was starting her political career, the CID had a public safety coordinator position similar to the one now held by Nguyen. The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) operated the Community Action Program (CAP) program, but had to scramble to fund the position, Kim said, as there was no funding provided by the City. Last year, when the CID Public Safety Task force came out with the recommendation that the City fund a similar position, the recommendation resonated with her.
“We really need someone from the neighborhood that’s going to be dedicated and focused on public safety issues,” Kim said.
While it may seem as though the situation in the neighborhood is dire—with increased homelessness, street disorder issues, a rising opioid epidemic, among other things—Kim said she was encouraged simply by the fact that, on a Thursday night, “so many different people of different ethnicities and generations are here.”
Kim praised the community’s efforts in the past months to address public safety problems and press the City for solutions.
“At the end of the day, that good work wasn’t Mayor Ed Murray’s good work, it was the community and it was the neighborhood’s good work and your recommendations,” Kim said.
Given Murray’s announcement on May 9 that he would not seek re-election, Kim urged community members to continue to put pressure on the candidates for mayor about how they would address the needs of the CID.
“Make sure that you hold them to account for their prioritization and their advocacy and their support of Seattle’s Chinatown International District,” Kim said.
Councilmember González, one of two at-large Seattle City Councilmembers representing the whole city, is also chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee. She said she takes the CID’s public safety issues very seriously, both in her capacity as Public Safety Chair and because of her upbringing as a child of immigrants from Mexico, who were originally undocumented when they came to the United States.
“The reality is that when we talk about public safety issues in our city, it’s important for us to recognize that we don’t all speak English, that we have different cultural barriers and relationships as relates to law enforcement, and that public safety to us is much more than having law enforcement available to us—it’s about building community,” González said. “It’s about understanding who we can call when there is a concern. It’s about understanding how to access a system that is not familiar to us.”
González took the lead in advocating that the City Council allocate $150,000 over two years to fund the public safety coordinator position now held by Nguyen.
When CID community members came to her office asking that the city fund the position, she said it seemed like an obvious solution, as it was a culturally appropriate response to the specific needs of the neighborhoods.
“It’s really important to make sure that we recognize that those are systemic barriers that are in place for you all to feel like this is a safe community,” González said, referring to the fact that the CID is split between two police precincts and between Council Districts 2 and 3.
Nguyen’s position, she noted, is the first and only of its kind in the city. “This is our opportunity to show the rest of the city that we can address public safety concerns thanks to the neighborhoods, and thanks to community’s advocacy on behalf of itself and for itself to make sure that the city of Seattle is being as responsive as it possibly can in a linguistically, culturally appropriate way,” González said.
The position could also pave the way for other community-led approaches in the city, she said.
“The Chinatown International District in my mind is the heart of the city, and it represents all of what I believe to be the future of this City,” González said. “I hope that we can continue to work together to make sure that this neighborhood is one of the most safe, one of the most beautiful and one of the most well invested-in neighborhoods.”
Han and Li, recently hired alongside Nguyen to serve as liaisons with the to work with the Department of Neighborhoods and SPD, respectively, both said they look forward to hearing input from the community.
“Really what I try to do is be as much of an active listener as I can and take what I can and coordinate with the different departments and how we can do a better job doing outreach to this neighborhood,” Han said.
SPD Assistant Chief Merner: Donnie Chin case is not forgotten
Seattle Police Assistant Chief Merner said that although the CID is divided into two police precincts, SPD is committed to covering the whole neighborhood as though there were no barriers. “Crime and disorder, they don’t stop at the line,” he said.
Merner said the police are continually working on investigating Donnie Chin’s murder.
“There isn’t a week that goes by that [SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole] doesn’t ask me where we’re going,” Merner said.
The case has taken detectives from the CID to other parts of Seattle and South King County, and detectives in multiple states are following leads.
The case is hampered by the fact that neither of the two gangs involved in the shooting has an incentive to help police solve the murder, since Donnie was not connected to the gangs.
However, Merner said police know who the groups are, and have identified people for scrutiny and made numerous arrests.
“We are going to continue to battle this,” he said. “Donnie’s case is not a case that’s forgotten. We just finished another cold case from 1980. I don’t want it to take 37 years to do Donnie’s case, but we don’t let these cases die.”