Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has convened another task force, this time to address public-safety concerns in the Chinatown International District.
Wednesday marked five months since the fatal shooting of public-safety activist Donnie Chin in the Chinatown International District.
Police have yet to make an arrest, but Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has convened a volunteer task force to address crime and quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood.
The 19-member panel of community and business leaders will work with police and city staff to develop new public-safety and economic-development strategies. It had its first meeting Dec. 15 and is expected to report back to the mayor in April.
Chin, 59, patrolled the Chinatown International District for many years. He sometimes provided help at crime and accident scenes before police and firefighters arrived.
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Chin was responding to a report of gunfire early July 23 when he was shot, caught in the crossfire between two groups, police have said.
“The loss of Donnie Chin has left a void,” Murray said in a news release announcing the task force. “We must take steps to support the neighborhood and challenge the entrenched issues it has faced for decades. I look forward to the task force’s findings.”
The Chinatown ID has suffered from crime and neglect for a long time, said I-Miun Liu, who owns two local businesses, Oasis Tea Zone and Eastern Cafe. There have been other killings. Drug-dealing is a persistent problem.
“But Donnie’s murder has been the catalyst for us to say, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t go on like this,’ ” Liu said.
Issues range from aggressive panhandling, drunken behavior and street harassment to vehicle break-ins, violent incidents and rapes, Liu said.
Some people who live and work in the neighborhood don’t speak English well and have less experience than others in Seattle in seeking help from the police, he said.
More than 75 percent of Chinatown ID residents are people of color and more than half speak a language other than English at home. Six in 10 are of Asian descent.
“Someone can harass an old immigrant lady, and she’s going to take it because she doesn’t have the means to talk to someone when she calls 911,” said Liu. “People see this as a neighborhood where they can get away with things.”
The police department recorded 520 crimes in the area it calls International District West through November this year, fewer than the 617 recorded in the same period last year, according to the department’s online crime dashboard.
There were two homicides in International District West through November this year, the same number as in 2014. The area covers Chinatown ID west of Interstate 5.
The department recorded 98 crimes in International District East through November this year and 123 last year. That area covers Chinatown ID east of I-5.
Not everyone believes the Chinatown ID is in crisis. Lunan Tang, 76, has lived in the neighborhood 10 years. He was walking down King Street on Thursday, bundled up against the cold.
“It’s not as bad as before,” Tang said, speaking in Mandarin Chinese. “It’s OK.”
But Zuolie Deng, who owns Deng’s Studio and Art Gallery in Chinatown ID, said crime this year has been worse than in years past.
Deng said Chin’s death has frightened away some people who visit the neighborhood to shop. Some seniors have been mugged at night and there are more homeless people in the area than before, he said.
“Some customers aren’t coming because they’re afraid,” Deng said Thursday, also speaking in Mandarin Chinese.
Deng hadn’t heard about the task force. He said politicians and police officials like to talk but rarely achieve results.
Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim and Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best will work with the group.
Kim said the group includes both people who live in the neighborhood and people who work there, people of different ages and those from different ethnic communities. She said Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Filipino Americans are represented on the panel, as are Native Americans and East African Americans.
The co-chairs are Maiko Winkler-Chin, executive director of the Seattle Chinatown-ID Preservation and Development Authority, and Tam Nguyen, owner of the Tamarind Tree restaurant and board president of Friends of Little Saigon.
Murray drew fire this year when he sought to shut down hookah lounges like the one near where Chin was shot, calling them magnets for violence. Lounge owners, patrons and other supporters accused the mayor of unfairly targeting businesses largely run and patronized by people of East African and Middle Eastern descent.
He backed away from the plan in August, agreeing to work with the owners.
Liu praised the task force’s diversity and said he hopes the mayor’s commitment to listen to what the group suggests will lead to real change. Murray has asked the panel to seek long-term systemic solutions rather than specific funding needs, Kim said.
The mayor has repeatedly asked citizen task forces to tackle tough issues since taking office two years ago, with some success. One such group helped hammer out a compromise on Seattle’s new minimum-wage law, while another struck a so-called grand bargain between real-estate developers and affordable-housing advocates.