Editor’s note: Northwest Asian Weekly received a commentary from community member Linh Thai calling on King County Council District 8 candidate Sofia Aragon to apologize for comments she made at a recent event. We invited Aragon to respond to Thai’s comments. Both commentaries are shared below.
Sofia Aragon owes Tommy Le’s family and our community an apology
By Linh Thai
At last night’s Team Time with Candidates held at Wing Luke Museum (on Oct. 19), which included Q&A conversations with candidates running for King County’s Council District 8, Sofia Aragon made some astonishing remarks about the tragic death of Tommy Le at the hands of King County Sheriff deputies. For context, she was answering a question posed by the moderator on the topic of police accountability given the history and examples of police’s use of deadly force, including the death of Tommy Le. Her comments have left many, including myself, deeply disturbed and hurt. It is time for Ms. Aragon to apologize for her insensitive remarks and show that she understands the gravity of her words.
Tommy Le’s death was a tragic event that sent shockwaves throughout the region and the state including Burien, White Center, South Seattle, CID, and Vashon Island communities, which Aragon aspires to represent. To insinuate that a trace of drugs from the autopsy and the questionable state of his mental health could have contributed to his death is not only insensitive but also factually incorrect. These aspects were widely debunked as a part of a systematic public disinformation campaign by King County Sheriff John Urquhart at the time, and the remarks were delivered in a manner that was anything but empathetic or informed, leaving many informed attendees stunned and upset. I could only imagine if any of Tommy’s family members were there, they would definitely feel traumatized all over again.
The community’s outrage over the senseless, inhumane killing of Tommy was able to transform into joining the movement of other impacted victims of police’s deadly use of force through the successful passage of De-Escalate Washington/Initiative 940 (a coalition that I had the distinct privilege and honor to serve as a member of the leadership team with the blessing of Tommy’s family).
In the realm of public service, it is crucial for elected officials and those seeking public office to demonstrate empathy, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of the issues they aim to address. Sofia Aragon’s comments fell egregiously short of these expectations. The way a candidate conducts themselves reflects not only on their personal character, but also on their readiness to serve the diverse and often vulnerable populations of King County’s Council District 8. At this forum, at least, the moderator and organizing team asked timely and crucial questions that go to the heart of the level of readiness to serve. I was quite eager to provide a much-needed counter-narrative to set the record straight regarding the former sheriff and a systematic narrative of deception and victim-blaming culture. It was heartening for me to feel so supported in that safe place hearing and seeing rousing applause from the majority of attendees. The community’s response underscores the importance of acknowledging and addressing sensitive issues with care and respect.
As voters, we must hold our elected officials and those seeking office to the highest standards of decorum and accountability. Candidate Aragon owes Tommy Le’s family and the entire community an apology for her insensitive remarks as ballots are already being sent to voters throughout the county. Her comments have the potential to reopen old wounds, further deepening the pain that the Le family has endured for far too long. Most importantly, she might be governed and advance policies that may not hold law enforcement accountable. There are much-needed reforms that are stalled because of budgetary issues such as:
- A well-funded and stronger mandate for an independent Office of Accountability
- Adequate funding and the creation of a multilingual and culturally competent Hate Crime Hotline
- Pro-active engagement and recruitment of KSO from the diverse populations that it serves
We must choose our representatives wisely. It is essential to elect candidates who not only have a vision for our community but also possess the compassion and understanding needed to address the complex and sensitive issues that affect our neighbors. Sofia Aragon’s recent comments have cast doubt on her ability to fulfill this role effectively. We must demand better from those who seek to serve us at King County Council District 8, and that starts with a sincere apology from candidate Aragon.
Sofia Aragon’s response:
Let’s learn from the past and resist the divisiveness of the present
By Sofia Aragon
The day after an ANNPHI Candidate Tea Time event at the Wing Luke, I received a message from a long-time acquaintance regarding Tommy Le. She said I’d lost her respect and that I should read the hundreds of legal pleadings in public view and shared links of articles. As an attorney, I felt compelled to “study up” and was ready to dive into reading. With the exception of one article, which didn’t have the hundreds of legal pleadings she referred to, I was frustrated to find the articles no longer available through the links she shared.
As a nurse, I have worked with families dealing with the grief and loss due to a death of a loved one and it never gets any easier. Trying to help family members with loss can make you feel powerless. This is because you can’t give them the one thing they want; you can’t bring their family member back.
I reflect on how the death of Tommy Le is put into a context of a campaign and, more specifically, discussed in a candidate forum where my opponent and I have differing views on public safety. These forums are set up for debate and divisiveness. Incredibly complex and emotional issues need more time to discuss than what is given or deserved. I can say little more than acknowledging that police brutality is not acceptable and that Tommy Le’s death was tragic. That could never be enough for the depth of loss Tommy Le’s family and how the community feels. The way the stage was set to discuss what happened to Tommy Le inevitably re-opened and put salt in old wounds that will never heal, and I’m so sorry that they had to relive an incredibly painful moment in their lives.
What did I take away from this forum? This strengthens my commitment to improve public safety so that the Asian Pacific Islander community can feel safe. The recent hate crimes this year alone of home invasions against Asian elderly, the vandalism inflicted on the Wing Luke Museum, insensitive comments about a young Asian woman by police, exposure to open air drug use that drove away customers from Little Saigon are only a few examples as to why the API community does not feel safe.
Perpetuating divisiveness is a strategy for halting open and honest conversations about public safety. While divisiveness in the form of controversy is key to shedding light on issues that need to be discussed, it can also be an enemy against the solidarity needed to solve problems that affect entire communities. My hope for Mr. Thai—and all of us—is to resist the divisiveness that campaigns want to create in communities. Let’s not allow ourselves to be divided and conquered. We need to be empathetic and supportive of one another, especially when our critics are not.