By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Still dealing with frustration and sadness over the murder of International District Emergency Center (IDEC) Executive Director Donnie Chin, more than 50 residents and business owners in the Chinatown International District (CID) hoped to hear that local law enforcement officials have captured or are close to capturing those responsible for his death.
CID community members as well as several firefighters from the Seattle Fire Department, Fire Station 10, gathered on Nov. 28 at the Nagomi Tea House for the third in a series of community meetings. They left with updated information about the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) 16-month investigation, the knowledge that Chin’s killers are still at large, and current public safety efforts in the district.
Co-hosts State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and members of the IDEC attended. “We operate on the basis of a covenant that we will endow our government with authority over our lives. And in return, we expect and demand accountability and responsiveness,” Santos said.
“We’re here to keep our elected officials and our government agencies accountable and responsive to us.”
Looking at panelists Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best and Assistant Police Chief Robert Merner, she said, “We are telling you, figure out what you can tell us and what can be shared. That’s what we want to know.” Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim joined Best and Merner as a panelist.
Best assured everyone the SPD is working “feverishly” and “diligently.”
“We want to see this homicide resolved just as much as everyone else,” she said. “We are committed to it today as we were on day one.”
Regarding public safety, Little Saigon residents want police officers from the same precinct that serves CID. SPD is also working on hiring a CID liaison (or community engagement and outreach specialist) to help coordinate issues of concern and recruiting more police officers that reflect the community in which they serve.
Best said, “It is important to us that this community feels as safe as possible. We are a part of the community and not apart from the community.”
Merner followed and addressed what the SPD can tell CID community members.
“There is a fine line that we walk between sharing information and protecting the integrity of the investigation,” he said. “I can tell you as recently as the past two weeks, we visited a state in the Midwest to interview an individual who potentially had information relative to Donnie’s case,” he said. “Donnie’s investigation has taken us from the East Coast to the West Coast and to the Midwest.”
Merner says the investigation is further along than it was in July. Chin died on July 23, 2015, a victim of crossfire between “two groups of individuals.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by that Chief (Kathleen) O’Toole, Chief Best don’t talk to me about Donnie Chin,” he added.
Sometimes, the third try really is the charm. Santos responded to Mercer’s rundown, “To my knowledge, I’ve been at all three of these community meetings because I convene them, that is the most extensive description of what the Seattle Police Department is doing to track down Donnie’s murderers that we’ve heard. I think that that is exactly the kind of information that we’ve been seeking all along.”
Questions — criticisms included — came from several people attending the meeting.
Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly publisher Assunta Ng said, “I’m happy that the police department is structured a little bit to serve this community, but to tell you the truth, I am not happy with the progress of the investigation on Donnie’s case, and I’m disappointed.”
Harrell discussed parts of the recently completed city budget targeted at improving public safety: an additional $200,000 for more frequent (bi-weekly) garbage pickup and street cleaning, and funding in 2017 and 2018 for a CID public safety coordinator.
“Certainly, not a means to replace Donnie because Donnie was irreplaceable, but an acknowledgment that we have to have more people involved in this public safety effort,” Harrell said.
Kim added, “It will be a civilian position within SPD that is specific to Chinatown/ID working primarily through the Public Safety Steering Committee.”
After the meeting, Santos says she is “appeased.”
“I feel for the first time I know they (SPD) are doing something,” she said.
The next community meeting has not yet been set, but is planned to take place in spring 2017.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.