By Irfan Shariff
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On Chinese New Year in 1968, while still in middle school, Donnie Chin helped form the Asians for Unity Emergency Squad. The group emerged in response to the lack of attention given to the needs of Chinatown International District (CID) from police, fire, and other city departments. This group is now known as the International District Emergency Center (IDEC) and next year it will turn 50. This is Chin’s legacy.
“I don’t know what we plan to do to recognize our 50th anniversary,” said Richard “Dicky” Mar, current board chair of IDEC. The anniversary date in the Gregorian calendar is January 30.
Its mission is to “help preserve and enhance community development in the International District so that it can be a viable and safe place to live, work, visit and conduct business.”
Ming Tse’s art and furniture gallery, Beijing Arts, sits on the same block where Chin was found shot in his car on South Lane Street in the early morning hours of July 23, 2015. He would frequently drop by to check on her.
“He was not only our hero but our savior,” she said. “He spent his whole life protecting individuals — old, sick, homeless — and the whole community.”
According to the Seattle Police Department, the homicide was gang-related and, over two years later, the case is still open but no arrests have been made.
“Donnie’s presence provided a sense of security to the residents and businesses in the CID,” said Mar. Awareness of IDEC dropped by 12 percent in the community within a year, according to a 2017 public safety survey conducted by InterIm CDA and the SCIDpda’s IDEA Space program.
Mar believes that one of two explanations led to the drop. Either the high turnover of residents and workers has led to less recognition of the IDEC or, “people are forgetting about IDEC and its founder Donnie Chin.”
Charles Martin, who owns and operates the Seattle Pinball Museum with his wife Cindy, doesn’t live in the CID. Since 2010, when he opened the business through the Storefronts Seattle program by Shunpike on Maynard Avenue South, he gained a vested interest in the community.
“It wasn’t the traditional type of business for the community,” he said. “People were guarded at first.” Even Chin.
“He was a human litmus test,” said Martin whose business quickly gained the approval of Chin. “He was a man of few words but lots of action.”
Martin, who has a background in environmental resource management, is a strong proponent of IDEC and preparing the CID for emergency responses. He works with the organization on what has come to be called “Donnie’s Project.”
In his last days, Chin was working to make the CID self-sustainable for three to five days in the event of “the big one,” said Martin referring to the megaquake that seismologists say is overdue to hit the Puget Sound region.
The Martins and their employees are all first aid-, AED- and CPR-certified. They were trained by IDEC, which still offers this program.
“Training is provided at no cost to residents and employees of the CID,” said Mar. “Our goal is to saturate the community with individuals capable of responding to emergency medical needs.”
“IDEC no longer offers patrols and 24/7 response to emergencies,” said Mar. Since Chin’s murder, the only staff position has also been eliminated. This position helped coordinate inquires to the IDEC and provided assistance to local organizations.
IDEC no longer offers the youth program fondly known as “Donnie’s Kids,” as the youth population in the neighborhood declined.
“Many of Donnie’s Kids are volunteers for IDEC today,” said Mar. Chin created a safe haven away from the “drug dealing and associated violence that plagued the CID in the 1970s.”
In his 2009 book, “Seattle’s International District: The Making of a Pan-Asian American Community,” historian Doug Chin points out that “absolutely no one has saved more lives or helped make the District a safer place to live than Donnie Chin, a paramount figure in the area and community.”
In the months following Chin’s murder, former mayor Ed Murray convened a task force to serve the safety needs of the CID in which Mar participated. Mar has noticed a greater police presence over the last two years. He can’t speak to police responsiveness, however.
Tse feels the safety issues in the CID are getting worse.
“We need help,” she said. “We cannot rely on the government. We need [local] people.”
IDEC still maintains a presence in the community and staffs community events with first aid stations. According to Mar, it will have provided this service to 30 events in the CID by the end of the year.
In a previous interview, Mar said the program hasn’t established a clear direction for its programming since the loss of Chin.
Martin feels the struggle too.
“No one can fill his shoes,” he said. “And no one wants to out of respect, but IDEC needs fresh blood.”
“IDEC needs new leadership to effect change within the organization,” said Mar who has been with there for over 40 years. “The future is something we will have to address again soon.”
“I don’t know if we will get a second Donnie,” said Tse. “It’s not likely to happen.”
Irfan can be reached at email@example.com.