By Becky Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
He died protecting his community. He avoided attention. A park he wanted for Chinatown-International District (CID), where he called home for almost 60 years, is now named after him — Donnie Chin Imarnternational Children’s Park. Police say Chin, founder and former director of the International District Emergency Center (IDEC), was caught in a crossfire between two rival East African gangs. Around 3 a.m. on July 23, 2015, Chin responded to a report of gunshots on 8th Avenue, between Lane and Weller, as he had done many times before. This time, he became the victim. His murder remains unsolved.
On the third anniversary of Chin’s death, his friends and family crowded into Canton Alley to remember and mourn him. Chin’s killing stunned the community, leaving a gaping hole in the heart of CID and those who knew him. Some called him a saint, a guardian. Some knew him since he was a boy. Some grew up under his wings. Some never even met him. But they all love and miss him. They want Chin’s killer found.
Gene Lee, who volunteered with Chin, called him a “one man patrol.” He said, “CID is not the same anymore.”
Three years went by without any progress in Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) homicide investigation. This baffled retired Seattle firefighter Peter Aoki.
“I have mixed feelings. I am very supportive of the police, but I don’t understand why there is absolutely no information or leads.” Aoki feared that as time lapses, people will forget about Chin.
SPD’s Assistant Chief Garth Green, Investigations Bureau, said the difficulty in this investigation is the lack of evidence and video since it occurred in an alley. He added that “witness description was vague” and surmised that one gang trying to leave the alley opened fire on Chin, thinking he was with the other gang.
Green asked the community to “be patient and not give up.” He assured the Chin case is still active with a lead detective assigned. However, there is “no breaking issue coming down anytime soon.”
SPD’s Gang Unit and Homicide Unit met collectively with the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, King County Prosecutor’s Office, and Department of Corrections on unsolved homicide cases. Using the Chin investigation as a test case for possible future partnerships, the meetings did not generate new leads.
The South Precinct will distribute newly translated East African police bulletins in its districts this week. Green pleaded with the community to come forth and assist — not anonymously — because those tips are hard to validate. He assured that all named tips will be protected, and the police can meet anywhere, in plainclothes or in uniform.
Those who assist law enforcement in criminal investigations, such as murder as in Chin’s case, may be eligible to apply for a non-immigrant U-Visa, according to Green. U-Visas can lead to immigration status adjustment and then lawful permanent residency.
Green knew and dealt with Chin while working in the West Precinct. He praised Chin as “a genuine, caring man, and the community knows it.” He said there is a community meeting scheduled in CID on August 21 at 3 p.m. Chin’s investigation will be one of the topics that will be discussed.
Kerry Taniguchi went to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School with Chin. When Taniguchi heard Chin was shot, he sped to CID and arrived when the medics were treating Chin. A little later, the friend he had known for “398 years” was gone.
How does a community recover from losing Chin, whom Aoki called “one of a kind”? Chin started IDEC in response to the city’s neglect of CID. Taniguchi said Chin “took care of everyone who comes into CID and gave everyone a chance.” He cared for the children, fed the elderly, trained the businesses for emergencies. Taniguchi went through a dark time trying to make sense of it.
Dahlia Marr knew Chin’s grandparents who opened the Boh Wah store in 1911, which later became Sun May Company on King Street. Marr said Chin “could’ve done a lot of other things” and gone far, but chose to volunteer and care for his community. “He’s a good person,” Marr added.
Aoki echoed the same sentiment. He first met Chin in 1986 when he was assigned to then Station 10 on Second Avenue and Main. Responding to frequent calls to CID, Aoki would encounter Chin, who was often first on the scene. He had the utmost admiration for Chin.
“As exhausted as I was, here’s this guy going 24/7 every day, with no days off and not getting paid as a public safety officer should.” Aoki said, “We’ll never find anyone to do what he’s done.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan called Chin “the hero of the city of Seattle.” During her mayoral campaign and later her election, Durkan pledged to the community that she “will not forget Donnie Chin.”
On the three year anniversary of his death, she issued a statement saying the same, touting Chin as “a tireless advocate for his historically underrepresented neighborhood, and his murder is such a profound loss to the community, our City, and all the lives he touched, and this loss is felt just as strongly today. I promise to you that Donnie Chin will not be forgotten. We will continue an active investigation into his murder.”
For Chin’s family and friends, kind words cannot sooth the wound. They want results. They will continue to celebrate him, remember him for years to come. As for Taniguchi, he stays busy with the First Aid project he started with his childhood friend before he died. He is doing it for himself, for the community, and for Donnie Chin.
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.