“For A Greater Purpose”: Community Aids in Clean-Up, Pushes Back Against National Narratives About Previous Day’s Protests

by Carolyn Bick

The Emerald wanted to show the community taking care of each other the day after a peaceful demonstration against systemic racism in the nation’s police force was hijacked by, from many accounts of protestors on the ground, white people who attended with the aim of causing destruction. Mayor Jenny Durkan also acknowledged in a statement on Twitter that “much of the violence and destruction, both here and across the country, has been instigated and perpetuated by white men.” 

Not all the people interviewed here were at the protests, but all came out specifically to help their community. The Emerald wanted to capture the range of thoughts and feelings among these people. They are couples with children and without; community organizers and everyday citizens trying to do their part; demonstrators who said they watched up close as police officers incited violence at the previous day’s protest; and people who did not attend the protest, but felt they had to come down, because doing something was better than sitting with their anxiety at home.

Tim Muchira, Sherry Muchira, Adia, Imani

Sherry: “I asked our daughter this morning, I said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of messy walls, there’s lots of graffiti in Seattle. Do you want to go clean up?’ And she was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s so important to help people. Every day is Earth Day.’”

Tim: “We are slowly helping them understand what it means to grow up in this world that is pretty divided. But we haven’t pointed any fingers at law enforcement. They are still very young, even though I think they understand what’s going on, we want to be very careful in the way we paint the whole thing.”

Sherry: “At this point, we are trying to give them a grasp on who they are as biracial children, how special and amazing it is, but also begin to introduce them to the realities that things are going to be a little harder, different and harder. So, it’s kind of … a gradual process of, let’s start with how amazing you are. ‘You have half of daddy, and half of mommy, and you have so much beautiful things about you.’ And we slowly introduce what that entails, as they get older. We actually have a pending conversation with [Adia], as she’s been asking lots of questions down here. We will start having those conversations. It’s important she knows the truth. … We’ve been yet to actually talk about what happened with George Floyd, and we need to have that conversation with her, and help her understand where the hurt was coming from.”

Tim: “We brought them down before to [Martin Luther King, Jr.] marches, but I just felt bringing them down yesterday, there was a level of anger that I didn’t want them to associate any other march with, even though it’s important to understand that.”

Sherry: “The anger was important, too.”

Tim: “Yeah. The anger was important. It was important for us to sit in that tension. But for them, it’s very important to understand where it came. As an interracial couple, it’s easier, I think, if we were just a Black couple. It’s different. I don’t want them to look at Mom different, I don’t want them to look at me different. They need to look at us as one.”

Michelle, Benji, Isaac

“We’ve talked about all the stuff that’s going on, and, obviously, that we are going to fight for justice and we are playing our part. They know the brutality of things going on. … I think being a person of color, I think there is a bit to understand — it’s a little bit of a familiar topic, from that perspective, but what’s hard is that we watch so many movies, and the fact that this is real life is where it’s hard. Like, this is real. This isn’t just some movie that you saw. There’s just a lot out there. Just to re-remind that it’s real is actually where the harder part is.”

Nancy Trang

“There’s a Facebook group of Vietnamese folks in the area, and Jefferey Vu … just made a callout to anyone who was interested in coming down to help clean up the area. So, came down here, met these ladies, met Jeffery, and we’re just walking around picking up some trash, seeing where we can help. It’s nice to see there are tons of folks out here who are just jumping in and helping, and there might even be more bodies than supplies.

“I was down at Westlake from about 3:30 [p.m.] to 6:30 [p.m.], and it was pretty peaceful throughout most of the protest and march, probably right up until about 5 [p.m.] when that curfew was announced, and things escalated pretty quickly from there. I was kind of in the thick of where people were marching, so it wasn’t where a lot of police and law enforcement were, but did see quite a few of them throwing in the gas canisters and loud explosions in the background — seeing a lot of the chemicals dispersing into the air. Wasn’t directly impacted by it, kind of just walked into some of the teargas from the aftermath of it. Felt a little bit of a sting, but not directly.

“It’s beautiful just to see the community come out. There’s so many folks here that are stepping up to rebuild and repair and support each other. It’s amazing to see and be a part of, and I hope people continue reaching out and using their voices for good and for justice, and supporting our Black community, especially in the Asian Pacific Island community. I think we benefit a lot from the white supremacy and it’s our responsibility to step up, so I am excited to see people are doing that.”

Jefferey Vu

Jefferey Vu helps clean the International District in Seattle, Washington, on May 31, 2020. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

“There was a few different calls to come clean up afterwards, in the morning, so I put out a call, too, just to add on, as well to what all my friends were doing, and to spread the word to my network, and to the groups that I am involved in.

“It was mainly white people who were breaking things [at the protest yesterday]. Of course, when the looting happened, it kind of started a frenzy, and people kind of jumped into it, but, in terms of smashing windows and stuff, that’s what me and my friends, from what I have heard from my friends who were there late in the night, that’s what they were saying.

“I was riding around on my bike downtown to try to support the crowds, but I was at Westlake minutes before they set the cars on fire, things like that. But the police kind of initiated the violence, at least for the protestors who were marching, and that kind of got a response from the crowd. And so it was kind of — it’s how it all escalated.

“When I came down to Chinatown earlier for food, and there was a man who came up to me — this was around 5, 6 o’clock — and it sounded pretty serious, he was going to burn and loot the neighborhood. … He wasn’t [white]. He gave the message that he was kind of — he had enough, and now they are going to do some serious stuff. … I think there is a lot of pent-up anger, energy.

“We notified the different neighborhood groups … to let them know the neighborhood might be targeted overnight. Turned out it was. There was a lot of break-ins that happened, and a lot of people that came through the neighborhood, and a lot of glass that was broken. So, that’s what we’re here to clean up.”

Ly Huynh

Ly Huynh, right, helps clean the International District in Seattle, Washington, on May 31, 2020. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

“We were at the protest yesterday from around 2:30 [p.m.] until around 5:30 [p.m.]. We were there for a bit.

“Honestly, we were part of the rally that was in Westlake for a little bit, and then we went over to the area where people were marching, but I think we were there for about one block before the police started throwing flash bombs and teargas and stuff, so it cut us off at the area. We kept trying to rejoin it, but there was so much police violence from, like, nowhere. Because we didn’t notice any of the people being violent or anything. It was mostly the police that started it. And then I guess, when it comes to destruction, we saw a car on fire, but we didn’t really see who did it. I just know I didn’t see any protestors being violent, when I was there.

“I think part of it that was really freaky for me is that [the police] would announce or say something before they did something. They would be like, ‘Hey, back off.’ But, for this, out of nowhere, we heard the blast. It was just really unannounced and really frightening for people, just out of nowhere they started throwing stuff.

“I definitely feel like [property destruction] has to be related to white anarchists. People just kind of hijacking the movement to live out these weird riot fantasies where they just destroy stuff. I saw a lot on Twitter, too, of people who were breaking stuff, and you can just kind of see it’s a whole mix of people, but I definitely feel like, you know, it’s definitely skewed towards white people. It’s like one of those things where I am not surprised, but it’s like, ‘Come on,’ you know?

“I think part of it is that a lot of people are focusing on the looting and violence, even though that’s not really part of everything. If you are focusing more on looting than clean-up, you’re missing the whole point. People have been murdered, and will continue to be murdered, if things don’t change. For this, it’s like, this is our community, but it can be cleaned up. But the people who were murdered, they can’t come back.”

Yaochiem Chao

Yaochiem Chao, left, consults with shop owners, as he helps board up businesses in the International District in Seattle, Washington, on May 31, 2020. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

“I was not at the protest yesterday. I observed from home, watching the Facebook Live streams. So, I guess to a degree.

“From far away, it’s easy to say the protestors did it, the people who organized it. But, really, following the live, the people who were actually on the ground, saying it wasn’t the minorities or people of color, but it was other people coming in to incite the violence, whether it was the anarchist groups or whatever. I don’t believe it was the people of color or minorities who were actually wanting their voice to be heard through words. That’s why they organized it, in the first place.

“You know what I have been impressed by? I literally just showed up two, three hours ago. But what I have been impressed by is the Facebook group. I don’t know what it’s called, specifically. It started out with, ‘Hey, support the businesses!’ And now it’s, like, ‘Hey, what are we doing?’ And we’ve got people like Pert, Pert Lin, he’s one of my friends, and I’m like, ‘Man, he’s doing some stuff. I can’t stay silent. I’ve got to do something with my body, other than feel the anxiety and anger.’

“I think there is something to be said about not just getting our minds and our words out, but getting our bodies out to do something about it.

“If you’re doing something for a greater purpose, not just you, I think that’s where the healing starts.”

Correction: The Emerald thought they heard the name ‘Kert Lin,’ when talking with Chao, due to face mask interference. Kert Lin and Pert Lin are brothers, Chao told the Emerald in a follow-up email.

Featured image: Adia cleans a wall, while holding a stuffed animal, in downtown Seattle, Washington, on May 31, 2020. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.

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