by Sharon H. Chang
KIM, YOUNG SEOB was born on September 19, 1972 in South Korea. Six months later he was left at an orphanage near Seoul with no explanation. He would never see his birth family again nor ever know why he had been surrendered. Five years later Kim, Young Seob was selected for transnational adoption. He was placed with an elated interracial U.S. couple, Larry Layton Taylor (white) and his wife Fuyo (Japanese). The young child boarded a long flight overseas to join his new parents in a foreign land called Seattle, Washington.
On July 17, 1979 an airplane with forty young Korean adoptees aboard ranging from infancy to eight years landed at SeaTac airport. A fearful Kim, Young Seob disembarked and was joyously adopted by Larry and Fuyo Taylor as their only child. He was now to be known as MICHAEL LAYTON TAYLOR.
Two weeks ago Michael was fatally shot by Seattle Police and died. He was 44 years old.
Michael was gunned down near The Jungle, a large homeless encampment that was being forcibly emptied by authorities under the direction of Mayor Ed Murray. On that fateful Wednesday, October 11th, the encampment was undergoing a final sweep. It was a ghost of its former self. Signs of life remained – personal effects, tents, lawn chairs, an old Christmas tree – but barely a living soul was in sight. Seattle police officers claim they came across Michael embroiled in a heated altercation with another man. Alleging they were unable to de-escalate the fight, police say they saw Michael clutching the blue handle of a kitchen knife printed with purple eggplants. The officers fired multiple shots. Michael did not survive. The other man suffered a minor knife wound to the hand.
The shooting was a jarring end to a life full of promise and hope. In the early years after the Korean War (1950-1953) thousands of Korean children were sent to adoptive homes in the West for a new beginning. This outflow of youth continued long after the war due to political/economic upheaval, postwar poverty and passage of legislation that eased the adoption process. Transnational adoption of Korean children became increasingly common through the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time South Korea has sent overseas around 200,000 of its orphaned or abandoned children, three-quarters of them to the United States.
Michael Taylor was one of those children. He didn’t know a word of English when he arrived in the late 1970s, his father tells me by email. Michael was a frightened five-year-old unsure what would happen from one day to the next. His adoptive parents didn’t know any Korean other than a few basic phrases provided by their adoption agency World Association for Children and Parents (WACAP). Nevertheless, reminisces Larry Taylor, 76, the family found communication still happens in many ways, without words.
One of those ways was through food. Maintaining connection with birth culture through food is deeply meaningful for many transnational adoptees. Michael, being a kindergarten-aged Korean, had already spent his first years of life eating staples like rice and kimchee. Luckily his new mother Fuyo, also known as “Micky,” was a Japanese immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1962 while Larry was serving in the Navy. Though Korean and Japanese cuisines are not the same, having a mother who cooked Japanese food provided at least some palate similarities that were intensely comforting to the scared, little Michael.
As time passed the institutional years of Michael’s life faded into the comforting realization he now had a forever family. Michael started first grade at Lakeridge Elementary and picked up English quickly with some limitations. By second grade these limitations became atypically developing. Michael was diagnosed with delayed response syndrome. People living with delayed response syndrome take longer to process information and need more time to respond. Unfortunately delayed response time is often misconstrued by others as low intelligence or not paying attention. Alternately the pressure to respond quickly can lead those living with the syndrome to give inappropriate responses. It was decided Michael should repeat second grade.
But Larry Taylor says his son “was more than a child who had a problem processing information.” Time revealed only further the beautiful, layered person Michael was on the inside, the father tells me proudly. Michael was a gifted artist who showed very high potential in free hand drawing with chalk, pencil and colored pencils. He was also very athletic and naturally excelled in sports like soccer, basketball and especially baseball.
“He was a very talented baseball player,” Larry boasts. “I saw him catch fly balls that you usually would see only at an advanced league level.” Other parents would ask how Michael learned to play so well. “Well it wasn’t from me,” Larry says humorously. “I realized [Michael] had a God-given talent.” Michael never lost a game as starting pitcher and saved every game as a relief pitcher. As a result, his team went from last place to win the league championship for several years running.
When Michael graduated from Renton High School on June 5, 1992 he was motivated to live a useful life, says his father. “I would like to obtain experience working with people in a service capacity,” Michael wrote on his resume. “A career goal [of mine] would be to work in an artistic field.” In fact Michael had already served in a number of jobs and “always put everything he had into whatever work he was involved with,” remembers Larry. “He always received an excellent recommendation as a ‘self-starter and hard worker.’” The father adds his son was just overall a likable, caring person who made friends easily and did good for others.
But things suddenly started to go south for Michael, Larry shares dolefully. At eighteen years old Michael was caught somehow mixed up in a home break-in. He was tried and sentenced as an adult, went to jail and worked to repay damages incurred. After being incarcerated and carrying out his sentence the father says Michael became frustrated and down-hearted. “A lot of the goals and desires he had just prior to that were severely dampened if not destroyed.”
One incident kept leading to another in a grievous downward spiral of drugs and alcohol, homelessness and continued criminal behaviors. Michael started coming home less. “He did come back home for brief periods,” says Larry, “but [always] seemed to gravitate back to the street.” The father knew Michael was extremely disappointed in himself and believes Michael started self-medicating for relief. “Drugs and alcohol seemed to be his escape from not being successful enough to stay on track.”
Looking back Larry confesses it’s difficult to pinpoint what may have sent his son down the wrong path, noting there were probably many contributing factors. For instance Fuyo was suddenly diagnosed with cancer when Michael was in high school. After years of treatment, the mother who had cooked cultural comfort food for Michael as a new adoptee mournfully lost her battle. “Micky” passed away in 1993 right around the time Michael was first jailed. Then shortly following Michael’s paternal grandmother, with whom the young man was very close, passed away in 1995.
Larry also reasonably wonders what impact delayed processing syndrome had on Michael’s ability to make good choices. He feels his son “knew right from wrong” but was vulnerable because of his learning disability and often easily influenced by others. “Michael was a person who was trying to find his place in life but at times used improper/poor judgment,” Larry relays. The father finds himself asking now how much of that improper judgement was rooted in processing delays that made the consequences of temptations and suggestions difficult to fully think through.
Moreover it turns out Michael was struggling with comorbid mental illness which Larry only recently learned from Seattle Municipal Court. Michael Taylor had been referred to the courts because it was thought his repeated struggles were related to mental-behavioral disadvantages. The courts had been working with a fully cooperative Michael since July who had been “making good progress.” Larry feels particularly sad about this news saying he never had a full picture of his son until he was gone. “My personal regret is that I didn’t understand that [Michael] had a mental behavioral challenge . . . I was always at a loss as to what was happening with him.”
That Michael Taylor had an offense history and struggled with addiction and homelessness has been widely publicized since his untimely death. But Michael’s loving father (and others) insist that Michael was sweet, gentle and loving – not the violent criminal he’s been made out to be. Instead Larry wishes folks could see his son as he did, “a kind-hearted person who fell on hard times” and was “trying to overcome the obstacles life placed in his path.”
In fact, Larry emphasizes, at the time of the shooting Michael actually was getting his life together. Michael Taylor was not a Jungle resident. He had a place to live, his own clothes, food and a regular restaurant job. He sometimes did extra work cleaning up after Seahawks, Sounders and UW Husky games. Which was understandable, his father points out obviously, since Michael loved sports. It leads Larry to wonder why his son was even at The Jungle on “that life-ending day.” Admittedly, Larry says Michael did know many who were forced to live there and knew what that life was like. Perhaps, he speculates, his son was there to help friends move?
Larry may never know.
But one thing feels crystal clear for this father. His son’s life has ended needlessly. “Why was [my son] gunned down like a wild animal in a jungle?” Larry asks painfully. “Michael was a person who, like all of us, needed love and like all of us, needed to give love.” At this point the father is profoundly frustrated with authorities who he feels have not only miserably failed his son, but also people like his son: the homeless, the mentally disadvantaged, “the helpless souls who wander the streets every night looking for a place in life.”
As he grieves, Larry waits, hoping more details will come forward about his son’s confusing death. “I am in a continuous fact-finding mode trying to put pieces of the ‘puzzle’ together,” he states discontentedly. It may be a long time, he resigns himself, before the whole picture comes into focus. If it ever does. Closure might unfairly elude this pained father. In the meantime, though his son’s life has ended, Larry hopes with all his heart the community won’t let the story end here. What would comfort him greatly is if Michael’s death could be a sort of beginning. “Let [my son’s] tragic end be . . . the end of inhumane treatment to those ‘down on their luck,’” says Larry passionately. “Let this be motivation to eliminate homelessness – everywhere.”
In Loving Memory of
Michael Layton Taylor
You are invited to join WHEEL/Women in Black for a special Ministry and Ritual in remembrance of Michael Taylor at the site of his shooting this
Friday October 28th, 12:00pm, Airport Way S/S Bayview