By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It seems like South Seattle’s Asian community can’t rest easy with criminals targeting them both on the streets and in their homes.
It seems to be common knowledge that almost 50 percent of all gunshots fired in Seattle go off in South Seattle.
On Dec. 15, 2016, some of these gunshots claimed the life of 45-year-old My Linh Nguyen.
Nguyen, who worked at a nail salon, had taken the light rail back home. A few feet from her house, an armed gunman accosted her in an attempt to steal her purse. Nguyen resisted her attacker and yelled out her 15-year-old son’s name. The boy ran out to see a man kicking his mother and then shoot her several times. The attack left Nguyen’s husband and son grief-stricken. More importantly, it sent ripples of fear and anger through the Asian community in South Seattle who feel unsafe and specifically targeted.
Take Hannah Tran. She used to live in South Seattle. Her husband and two children have now moved to Bothell. “We didn’t feel safe anymore, especially with the kids. I come back to South Seattle to visit my friends and it is not safe. In fact, I tell my friend that it’s time for her to look for a safer place to live in.”
On Dec. 20, a community meeting was called by the members of the Asian community in South Seattle to voice their concerns to the Seattle Police Department in light of the horrific incident. In attendance were South precinct Commander Captain Eric Greening, Operation Lieutenant Matthew Allen, and Asian Liaison Officer Lieutenant Paul Leung.
Speaking to community members, Greening expressed his condolences to Nguyen’s husband, who was present. He also provided the community with statistics that show that the Asian community is being specifically targeted in the area.
“Since I arrived in July, I noticed we had a pattern of robberies involving Asian women. We’ve had young men of color robbing Asian women usually above the age of 30, as they are walking in their neighborhoods or from the light rail or bus stop. Some of these instances took place right up to the front door of their homes,” Greening said.
His precinct has instituted emphasis patrols (bringing in extra officers on overtime to supplement the officers that are working with 911) in areas with a concentration of these robberies. Most of them are around the light rail: Beacon Hill Light Rail Station, King Way and South Othello, King Way South Henderson, and streets east and west of the routes.
Greening said that in 2016, there were a total of 183 street robberies in the South precinct.
Many of the victims were Asian women. “We made about 47 arrests in 33 incidents. In a large majority of cases, they use body force, pushing the person over or snatching items from behind. Unfortunately, we had several now that have involved weapons,” he said.
The robberies on the streets of South Seattle mostly take place during daylight, with criminals using body force to snatch cell phones or purses. A significant number of them occur in the Brighton-Holly area.
“In October, we saw an uptick in robberies, but augmented patrols have seen the number drop by 50 percent. Robberies are down from last year, but that is not satisfactory. We had internal meetings to discuss strategies to combat robberies,” Greening pointed out.
Another reason for concern in the area is the number of property crimes, specifically home invasions. They often occur late at night or early in the morning. Greening said that between Sept. 28, 2016 and Dec. 3, 2016, there were 11 home invasions, 10 of which were at Asian homes.
Speaking specifically to community members, Greening asked for their help, especially when it came to reporting the home invasions. “One of the things the police have a problem with is that there are usually two or three suspects. They wear masks and gloves, and usually take cash or other items that cannot be traced. We need your help letting your friends, neighbors, and families know that whether they are street robberies or home invasions, call 911 immediately.
Many people will walk all the way home and then call or wait for a family friend or neighbor who they believe is more fluent in English to call 911. So by the time the police gets there, the trail is starting to go cold. Please call 911 in your native language and they will get someone to translate on the 911 system,” he urged.
Allen informed the community to make note of items their attackers were wearing that cannot be easily discarded. “A person may take off his tie or jacket and get away, but he may not be able to get rid of his shoes. Be aware of your location and have a rough idea of the direction or street your attacker took off in, so you can inform 911 accordingly,” he said.
Additionally, Linh Thach, Mark Solomon, and South Precinct Community Police Team staff have been reaching out to community members to heighten awareness by distributing crime prevention bulletins in different languages. Some of the guidelines instruct women to walk in groups, and report suspicious individuals or activities. However, this seemed to have not been well received.
Home invasions from Sept. 28, 2016 to Dec. 3, 2016:
11 home invasions (10 of these crimes occurred at Asian homes)
Crimes took place during the hours of darkness or during early morning hours.
Tran Ng, a friend of Hannah’s, who still lives in South Seattle, feels that precautions that the SPD have asked women like her to take, are not always possible. “I have to go to work alone, how can I expect someone to accompany me at all times? We have to find some other solution.”
Truong Le Tran, who runs Tony’s Bakery located off Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, felt that it was frustrating for him when he called 911 to report a robbery. He recalled an incident when his home was burgled a few years ago and the criminals got away with it.
Quelling the people’s discomfort, Greening assured community members that his department was working around the clock to make South Seattle safer and bring the perpetrators to justice. He asked for the community to appeal to their representatives for more resources.
Greening said, “I have control of officers that work in this area, but I have to ask for staffing and resources. We would like your assistance with getting resources in South Seattle commensurate with the types and number of crimes that we have.”
SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb said in a statement that uniformed and plainclothed patrol officers had been added in the area, and the department is coordinating with local and federal partners to address crime and safety concerns. He also added that the SPD is on track to hire an additional 100 fully trained police officers by the end of 2017, as directed by Mayor Ed Murray in 2014, and then another 100 by the end of 2019.
Anyone with information about Nguyen’s homicide is asked to call the Seattle Police Department’s tip line, 206-233-5000, or Crime Stoppers, 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
If you’d like to help My Linh Nguyen’s family, you can make a donation here: gofundme.com/My-LinhNguyenATragicLossSeattleWA.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.