By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I have been a beneficiary of a good cop and a victim of a bad cop’s racism.
First, the unsettling incident. In 2001, a cop stopped a group of students, lined them against the wall, patted them down, and searched them at 4th Avenue South and Main Street South (now the Hirabayashi Place), and accused them of jaywalking. These 20-plus high school students were enrolling in our summer youth leadership program organized by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation.
Some students, who were so scared and traumatized, cried. During the line up, the cop asked the students, “Are you from Japan?” “Do you speak English?” One brave soul, David Ka, who was the student photographer, secretly sneaked across the street and snapped a photo of the cop and the students lining up against the wall. Ka now works for Vulcan in the Chinatown-International District.
Most of these teenagers were American-born. So was the coordinator, Andrew Cho, program chair of sociology at Tacoma Community College.
The road was blocked on one side so there was no traffic. The incident occurred way before the construction of rails and housing. There were hardly any pedestrians except our students. Unable to find fault, the cop gave the students a citation for allegedly jaywalking. When you have one group of people belonging to the same organization with over 20 members crossing the road together, they are not going to walk as fast as they tend to, walking right behind each other.
The cop couldn’t find fault with the students so he had to punish them with something. Hence, the ticket for jaywalking. I wasn’t going to give in. I wanted to contest the ticket. One of the speakers for the program was Yvonne Konoshita Ward. I had no idea the students felt so unfairly treated. They contacted Ward, an attorney, who had spoken to the class about social injustice.
The incident got so big that the Japanese American Citizens League and Organization of Chinese Americans jumped in to help. The story of the students and the two organizations made network news and mainstream newspapers. Represented by Ward and public defender Leo Hamaji pro bono, we ended up going to Municipal Court, contesting the ticket. The judge threw the ticket out, because the ticket was given with a racial overtone.
That was the past. One racist cop doesn’t represent the whole police force.
It was an isolated incident.
Recently, I had a frightening incident. If not for the cop who stopped his car and ran out to help me, it would have been a disaster for me and my husband.
It was Jan. 27, a cold evening. I had a meeting at the Joyale Restaurant. To make sure I was safe, my husband walked with me to the restaurant on South Jackson Street, as there were homeless camps nearby. After crossing 7th Avenue South, he was not feeling well.
“My feet are weak,” he said. He had taken some new medication and had some negative side effects.
“You go back to the office,” I said. “I can walk by myself.”
At the intersection of 8th Avenue South, I was waiting for a red light to turn green so I could walk on the side of the road towards Joyale. Before the light turned green, I looked back and saw someone lying on the floor. Had I not looked back, I might have regretted it for the rest of my life. I saw two men pass by and gaze at the man lying on the floor without doing anything, and then moving on as fast as they could.
It reminded me of Princess Diana’s automobile accident. When she was dying, a member of the paparazzi touched her hand and took her photo instead of rescuing her. Another story illustrated the same point. In 2018, Hollywood star George Clooney was injured in a motorcycle accident in Italy. He said in a British newspaper that bystanders just filmed the incident, instead of rushing to help. Although Clooney recovered, he thought at that moment he wouldn’t see his family again.
I ran back to look at the man. I was shocked to discover that it was my husband and blood was streaming down his face in twilight, right where the 7th Avenue auto shop used to be. In fear and desperation, I looked up and saw a police car waiting for the red light to turn at 7th Avenue South.
“Help, help, help,” I yelled at the top of my lungs many times.
When the cop walked out from his car towards us, I felt less afraid. The truth is, I didn’t know what to do. It’s exactly what a Chinese proverb says, “Those who are involved cannot see, the bystander sees clearly from the outside.”
I wasn’t able to calm down because there was so much blood on my husband’s face. Sure, I could call 911 myself. Usually, the responder asks so many questions that it would take much longer to get help.
The cop asked a few questions about what happened, where we lived, and what we wanted to do with my husband’s situation. But first, he looked at my husband’s wounds.
“Would you like me to put a bandage on his eyebrow?” he asked, where blood was gushing out. A big piece of flesh was gone right above his lip.
“Yes,” I replied. He told me my husband had cuts above his eyes. He called the paramedics and they arrived within a few minutes.
The cop and the medic concluded that my husband needed stitches.
“Would you like me to take you home or call an ambulance?” he asked.
When he said my husband needed stitches, I said, “Ambulance.”
“Which hospital do you want to go to?” the medic asked.
“Swedish,” I replied, as it was closest to Chinatown.
Within a few minutes, the ambulance came. I was not allowed to go with my husband.
“During Covid, no visitor is allowed to go into the hospital,” the ambulance crew member said.
The whole incident, from the time I found my husband on the floor, to the time he was inside the ambulance, took a little more than 10 minutes. Had I called 911 and explained the whole situation, it would probably have doubled the amount of time before my husband could get help. My past experiences with 911 for my employee who was bleeding, and other incidents out of safety concerns, usually took a lot longer. One friend, who called 911 recently, said, “It’s chaotic and confusing.”
Later, my husband told me he was dizzy and lost consciousness. He didn’t know he fell on the ground hard and hurt himself. Luckily, the scan at the hospital revealed he had no broken bones or a concussion. In addition to all his scrapes, bruises and injuries on his face, foot and nose, he got eight stitches—four above his eye and four on his knee. The fall was hard as his pants and coat were torn. He is now healed.
I wish I had been more calm in the midst of disarray. Although I remembered to thank the officer, I didn’t ask for his name. I never knew who he was, even though I had asked Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz to identify him. I wanted to say, “Thank you,” for his service and being a good cop.
But the journalist in me, made me take my husband’s photo quickly before the ambulance swished him away. One photo showed his face full of blood. He was fully conscious of what was going on then. He told me to go home and that he would call me.
My best friend in California said, “Do you know how lucky you are to have a cop next to you when you need help?” Not all people in Chinatown-International District were that lucky when they needed the cops.
A reader also told me that he speaks only Chinese and called 911 and got nowhere. (Diaz has said previously that if victims and witnesses do not speak English, the city’s 911 call takers can link to interpreters certified in over 200 languages and dialects,)
“I know,” I said. “I just looked up, feeling helpless at that moment and wondered who could help me. And the cop was right in front of me. It’s like God sent an angel.”
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.