by Ruth Bayang
(This article was previously published on Northwest Asian Weekly and has been reprinted with permission.)
Insignificant. Unseen. Ignored.
That’s how Kert Lin, 35, of Seattle felt, as he heard someone yell “Chink, open your eyes, go back to China!” when he pulled into the parking lot of Home Depot on 2701 Utah Avenue South, just outside the International District (ID) on May 12.
Lin, a Chinese American, snapped a photo of the white man driving a company truck belonging to a local landscape company. The same man goaded Lin into getting out of his car while Lin called 911, all the while saying that calling the police would do no good, intimating that he couldn’t get fired because he was the owner of the landscape company, and that nothing would be done.
Lin said this happened in plain view of store security officers outside Home Depot.
“The Home Depot security guards advised me not to call the police and allowed the racists to do their shopping and leave, all while laughing, smiling, and waving to me and security as they left,” Lin said.
The response from Home Depot: “We do not control what others do.”
When Officer Jones of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) arrived on scene, Lin got a similar message. Since no crime was committed, and the man was exercising his First Amendment rights, no report was taken.
Lin pressed on, asking repeatedly about SPD’s response as a community partner — if there was a directive or protocol on handling situations like this. Officer Jones repeatedly said “no,” and if there was a directive from the top, he wasn’t aware of it.
The chief’s apology
Lin told the Northwest Asian Weekly that SPD Chief Carmen Best phoned him two days after this incident to personally apologize.
While he appreciates the gesture and he believes Best is sincere, Lin said it doesn’t mean anything. He pointed to Best’s video in one of her “chief’s brief” updates, urging residents to call 911 over racist name-calling. The video, also featuring retired KING 5 anchor Lori Matsukawa, said there is zero tolerance for hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“[Best] has made videos and literature … for her to repeat her sentiments doesn’t mean anything because we know what her sentiments are, and we know [what] the SPD’s message is to our community. However, that’s just not being followed through by her officers,” said Lin.
In response to our email inquiry, Sergeant Lauren Truscott issued the following statement:
“The Seattle Police Department regards reports of bias incidents and crimes with the utmost seriousness … In recent years, the Department has worked diligently with our Asian American community to develop their trust in reporting bias crimes to the police. The bias incident in question was documented in a General Offense report and forwarded to the Bias Crimes Coordinator for further investigation. The incident, in its entirety, has been forwarded to the Office of Police Accountability for further review.”
Lin said that Officer Jones outright lied to him about the lack of SPD protocol of such matters.
Beth Wareing, SPD’s Bias Crimes coordinator, had told Lin that a week prior, each SPD officer had signed off on a training, saying that they understood the new protocol — that anytime a 911 call is made regarding racism or racial taunts, whether or not a law has been broken, the SPD response is to take a report.
“I’m not trying to be vindictive or get anyone fired,” said Lin. “I want accountability … not just from SPD leadership, not the head of Hate Crimes, but from everyone who wears a badge, who patrols. If they are not outraged and they don’t speak out, then they are accepting it.”
Best told the Northwest Asian Weekly that SPD has worked with the local Asian American community for decades and hopes that the SPD isn’t just judged on this one incident.
Call to action
Frustrated with the initial lack of a response from Home Depot and SPD, Lin posted the photo of his verbal aggressor on Facebook. The response has been overwhelming.
In the days since the May 12 incident, Lin said he has had “awesome dialogue” with both SPD and Home Depot, and both have asked Lin to help them with community outreach. Lin has declined.
He told Home Depot that it can help by getting in touch with Asian-owned businesses, especially the ones that have been vandalized and burglarized.
“You’re a hardware store,” Lin told Home Depot. “You can supply labor, materials … reach out to see how you can help them. The district manager said he would make that happen, so we’ll see.”
In a conversation with Seattle Police Assistant Chief Adrian Diaz, Lin expressed disappointment with the “radio silence” by the Chinatown beat cop. “The officer who claims to be there for us said nothing [about this incident].”
Lin also said to Diaz, “Your officers protect themselves over the community … at least that is the perception. Asian officers, any officers of color … that’s how you outreach. Have everyday officers, not just leadership … those are the ones we want to hear condemning racism. Right now, they see themselves as police first, being on the same side of the shield. Too often, they do not speak out against their own.”
The Northwest Asian Weekly called the landscape company whose truck the alleged verbal aggressor was seen driving, to seek a comment. A man who identified himself as Josh answered the phone. Josh said that at the advice of his lawyer, he didn’t have a comment. He did say that SPD was reviewing video footage from his commercial vehicle and alluded to “a lot of controversy” and “hearsay.”
Later that night, our reporter got a call from someone asking if we were “with the newspaper,” and proceeded to tell us that we would be hearing from a lawyer.
It feels like I was nobody
“Initially I was angry that this person said what he said,” said Lin. “Then the anger turned into confusion — why security didn’t stop them, why they told me not to call the police, why Home Depot allowed them in, why no bystander said anything in a crowded parking lot in the middle of the day.”
Lin noted that this month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
“We’re in the middle of the month that we should be celebrating … I am right outside of the ID … there is no hardware store closer than that location, and on every level of society, this was ignored from that individual racist, to the corporation, to local police, to your regular bystander … not one person did anything about this. That’s what struck me as hurtful … it feels like I was nobody.”
Born and raised in Seattle, Lin is now a kindergarten teacher, teaching in the same classroom where he was a kindergartner.
His voice broke, fighting back tears, as he said, “The people that came before us had it so much worse and they suffered through so much more. We owe it to them to be treated better than how we’re being treated. We should be so much further. Unfortunately, we’re seeing history repeat itself. We, as a community, need to make our presence felt and known and respected.”
Featured image by Dennis Wise (via NW Asian Weekly).