By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In the honor of Donnie Chin, who was killed in the line of fire last month, amazing stories were shared with more than 800 people on Aug. 15 in Chinatown.
Although much has been reported in the media about Chin, a hero, protector, and savior of the International District community, since he was shot on July 23 in Chinatown, heart-warming and funny tales continued to unravel about the man who gave his life to help all people beyond his community, race, and especially those who were in trouble.
Chin founded the International District Emergency Center in 1968 with Dean Wong. Chin, a one-man patrol, created his niche by serving the ID, as he patrolled and became the first responder to any emergency.
African American Franklyn Smith was one of those Chin saved. A former homeless, drug addict, and alcoholic, Smith was suffering from pain under the I-5 overpass on King Street S. The substance from his addiction ate a hole in his pancreas, leaking into his stomach.
While lying down on the dirt moaning, Smith couldn’t walk, breathe, or speak.
“Chief Donnie,” as many homeless folks called him, Smith said, “who happened to drive by, called 911, and rushed me to Harborview Medical Center to have emergency surgery.”
The surgeon told Smith, “You must have an angel watching over you, because you had enough poison in your stomach to kill the average person.”
“Donnie had a keen awareness of us…who were there out of circumstances and/or just hanging out in the community,” Smith said. “To me, Donnie Chinn wasn’t in the business of community/public services. He didn’t have just a job, Chief Donnie was a servant of his community and his guardianship was reflected by his passion for the work that he did, which acquired him the respect of everyone that he met.”
That day was also a turning point in Smith’s life. Not only has he been sober for 10 years, he is now working for the Seattle Community Justice Center. In giving back, he spends a good part of his days serving those struggling with addiction.
So what propelled Chin to keep doing what he did? Smith asked Chin about this later. Chin’s response was simple, “Family, we are all family!”
Smith realized that “help” is a word, not [isolated to] color nor culture and from time to time, we will all need some type of help.”
Years ago, a few in the community had criticized that Chin never had ambitions for a well-paid career. Capt. Preston Bhang shared with the audience that he once recruited Chin to join the fire department because he was good at what he did as an emergency responder. (An entry fireman who makes $68,000 can instantly double or triple what Chin was making, who was relying on small donations. Chin’s sister Connie Magorty said for decades he didn’t get paid, Chin just used his savings.)
But Chin declined. If he joined the department, Chin said, he would have to give up his passion to serve the ID neighborhood.
“I get paid to do what I do, get paid for my uniform and ride the big, shiny fire truck,” said Bhang. ”But Donnie didn’t get paid [for what he did]. He went home and slept in the neighborhood.” Simply, Chin had a love affair with the community, Bhang said.
Chin’s love affair extended to mentoring and training hundreds of volunteers, including kids from the ghetto getting out of control. Chinatown has many kids being left alone simply because both of their parents have to work 60 to 70 hours a week in restaurants, grocery, stores, and garment factories.
One of Chin’s “kids,” Angela Lee, thanked Chin for raising her. He taught her how to drive and other vital skills to be successful in life. He spent time with her and other kids, and mentored them to be valuable contributors to the community.
Lee now works at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
Beth Takekawa, executive director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum, showed the audience that tough guy Donnie had a soft side. “He wrote a message to all the mothers every Mother’s Day, and another to the fathers at Father’s Day.”
Takekawa quoted Chin’s last Mother’s Day message:
“We should honor our mothers no matter what day it is… They worked long hours in the farms and fields under the hot sun, in sweat shops sewing clothes they could not afford, raised children in camps surrounded by barbed wire, saw their loved ones go off to fight for freedoms they themselves were denied. They cleaned offices and houses of the rich, worked on their feet day and night serving up food their own families couldn’t afford to eat, on their knees scrubbing floors, babysitting other children to make ends meet, managed ghetto hotels where life itself was a stretch, growing up without so that their children grew up with… We watched them come home tired and worn. Yet they were still able to teach us about caring and sharing. That their children are the most important thing in their life.”
Lee said, “There will never be anyone like you [Chin] because you are one of a kind.” (end)