The Rev. Harriett Walden, a longtime Seattle police accountability and social justice activist, called a news conference on Tuesday to denounce a rise in hate crimes and appeal for racial unity after she said she was subjected to slurs and a hurled bottle of motor oil while walking downtown last week.

Walden, who is Black, said she was crossing Columbia Street at First Avenue around 3:30 p.m. Thursday when a white man who was stopped at a red light began yelling slurs and insults at the 75-year-old grandmother. She said the young man, who appeared to be under 30, kept inching his car closer and closer to her, making her think he was going to hit her.

She kept walking and was struck in the lower back by a bottle of motor oil, hard enough that she said she nearly lost her balance and later bruised.

“I’m blessed. You know why I’m blessed? The only weapon he had in his car was the motor oil. We know so many times people have guns. And so, you know, I’m here today, no obituary needed,” Walden said from a community room in the Liberty Bank Building at 24th Avenue and Union Street, in Seattle’s Central District. “He called me all sorts of names. It was melanin that set the guy off, OK? Let’s be clear. It was melanin, and it’s not going away.”

She said she’s never been hit before and was dazed and stunned to be targeted because of her race.

The encounter between Walden and the as yet unidentified driver is being investigated by the Seattle Police Department as a hate crime.

Advertising

“Police are following leads in the case but are hoping someone out there may have more information about the driver and his dark-colored hatchback, which may have been lowered,” says an item about the incident on the department’s online blotter, though it does not identify Walden by name.

Anyone with information is asked to call SPD’s violent crimes tip line at 206-233-5000.

Since 2018, King County prosecutors have filed 209 criminal charges involving hate-crime elements, and there is clear evidence of a crime being motivated by race, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression, or national origin in 153 of them, according to data provided by Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

The data gathered by police shows that of the charged crimes, anti-Black hate crimes are the most prevalent, with prosecutors filing charges in 61 cases involving Black victims since 2019, 10 of them so far this year. Also since 2019, there have been 15 cases involving anti-Asian hate, with seven charged cases in 2021 alone.

Walden, a Seattle resident for 45 years and the co-founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, said Black and Asian Americans have lived in this country for generations and have a long history of working together on social justice issues. She said her news conference was a call to action to stop hate crimes, and she appealed to the city’s media companies to highlight and contribute to community efforts aimed at building unity.

“If you don’t like living in a community with all people, you best try to get your own spaceship. There’s a place for you, but it might not be in Seattle,” Walden said. “Hatred is in the head. Love is in the heart. In order to move the energy, we have to move from our head to our heart. And that’s where we solve problems at.”

“So I’m just asking for the media and the communities to work together and come up with a plan … and say it’s a new day and we’re not going to tolerate this because we know there’s another way,” Walden said. “There’s a lot of new people here and that’s good. … And they might think this is normal. This is not normal Seattle.”