Michelle Cai, whose parents own Dim Sum King in the Chinatown International District (CID), was woken up by her mother after 4 a.m. on May 30 with news that vandals had broken the windows and display case at the restaurant. It was “devastating,” to learn, Cai wrote in a post in the CID community Facebook group Support the ID, but she said she was grateful the damage wasn’t worse.
Dim Sum King was one of many CID businesses damaged on May 29 and 30 following demonstrations through downtown Seattle. Responding to the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police, demonstrators marched against police brutality and racism through the streets of downtown.
Damage suffered by CID businesses over that weekend, ranging from graffiti to broken windows and looting, further harms a neighborhood that has suffered disproportionately during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Valerie Tran, operations director for Friends of Little Saigon.
“A number of our businesses have already been hit during COVID, and then for this to happen on top of that makes it that much more difficult to look into recovery,” said Tran. The neighborhood already experienced an increase in vandalism due to a decline in business and activity in the neighborhood from the pandemic, Tran said. “This is just another set back for the neighborhood.”
“It was just a regular smash and grab – nothing too eventful,” said Yenvy Pham, co-owner of Phở Bắc Súp Shop, which was damaged Saturday, May 30. Vandals smashed the glass door, took an empty cash register and some iPads. For Pham, the vandalism was more of a nuisance than anything serious. “We’re in the ID, we get broken into quite a bit,” she said. “We’re just happy it wasn’t a fire or anything really damaging that we couldn’t bounce back from fast.”
Five minutes after Phở Bắc Súp Shop was vandalized, according to Pham, Jade Garden was targeted. As King 5 reported reported, windows were smashed, and the register and other items stolen. Jade Garden’s glass windows had been boarded up since it was vandalized earlier in March.
Businesses were damaged throughout the neighborhood, according to Tran and Jamie Lee, director of community initiatives at the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda).
As well as Dim Sum King, Jade Garden and Phở Bắc Súp Shop, other damaged businesses included Chengdu Memory, Chu Minh Tofu & Vegetarian Deli, Universal Tours travel agency, Lexor beauty supply store, Seattle Vision Clinic, a chiropractic clinic, as well as a FedEx, Bartell Drugs, Bank of America, Washington Federal Bank, and vacant commercial spaces, according to Tran and Lee.
By the middle of the day on May 31, at least 25 businesses in the CID were damaged, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) estimated.
Police are investigating reports of burglary and theft from several CID businesses following the demonstrations, a department spokesperson said in a statement.
Friends of Little Saigon, SCIDpda and the CIDBIA coordinated to help businesses board up their windows if they chose, to cover damaged windows and prevent future damage.
The organizations also set aside a portion of their small business relief fund to help businesses pay for repairs. “We want to make sure to help businesses that did have damage to their property, to be able to fix it,” said Lee.
Omari Salisbury, a citizen journalist who has been capturing the Seattle demonstrations on video, was in the CID for 45 minutes on May 30 while groups vandalized businesses. Salisbury’s video shows people smashing the windows of Bank of America and Washington Federal Bank, and advancing up to Little Saigon.
Salisbury believes police pushed demonstrators south from downtown and into the CID. According to Salisbury’s account of events, told to City Council during the the Public Safety and Human Services Committee on June 3, the protest “fizzled” near Washington and Jackson St. (Salisbury can be heard in the video starting at 55:14). “After that though, a lot of the police presence left, and for 45 minutes I witnessed a group of, whatever you want to call them — anarchists or vandals or whatever — destroy the International District,” Salisbury told City Council. “Police rolled by, they absolutely did not stop.”
In a statement, a Seattle Police Department spokesperson said police did not push demonstrators into the CID. “A coordinated unpermitted demonstration began in the ID,” the spokesperson said, referring to a May 29 demonstration that started in Hing Hay Park at 7 p.m.
On the night of May 30, when more CID businesses were vandalized, “SPD officers were responding to a number of simultaneous large-scale demonstrations in the city,” according to the department spokesperson, including burglary, arson and looting downtown. “This march required a significant number of police resources to contain. As police were still working to arrest vandals and rioters from the first event, a second group moved through the International District damaging and looting businesses, further stretching law enforcement resources.”
The spokesperson continued: “The department knows the Chinatown-International District and has already faced significant hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the damage caused by rioters adds further strain. The Seattle Police Department is actively investigating a number of crimes reported in the evening and morning hours of May 30/31st, and will continue our work to seek justice for and restore a sense of safety to the Chinatown-International District community.”
In a visit to the neighborhood on May 31, Mayor Jenny Durkan met with community members and acknowledged that the past few months have been especially difficult for the CID. “It breaks my heart to see all the windows be boarded up, and the community has to protect itself,” she said, joined by a crowd on the sidewalk by Hing Hay Park, in a video by Crystal Clockworks media. “But I’ve seen how resilient and how strong you are, I’ve seen this neighborhood come back over the ages, and I’ve seen you pull together, and we will continue to pull together as a city.”
In the video, people confronted Durkan about the police response to protests, including use of flash bangs, and a widely-circulated video of a young child crying after getting mace or tear gas in her eyes.
The videographer, standing behind Durkan, asked if she heard of reports of police funneling rioters into the CID the night before. Durkan, speaking with someone in front of her, did not respond. After arguing with people briefly about whether or not police were responsible for provoking violence, Durkan started walking away from the group.
For Dev Kabanela, a regular volunteer in the CID, the police failed to protect the CID during a vulnerable time. “They know that Asian Americans are under threat from pandemic hate crimes,” he said. “It’s not excusable that whatever plans they had did not include the district in their strategy.”
Before the first demonstrations, on May 29, Kabanela feared what could happen in the CID if demonstrators or rioters started fires in the CID, and put people’s lives at risk.
Kabanela was up late on Saturday night and heard reports in real time as Phở Bắc Súp Shop and Jade Garden were vandalized. “The thing that angers me now is, I’m getting these reports in real time – where are the police?”
On Sunday, Kabanela visited the neighborhood, and saw the mayor and police officers gathered near Hing Hay Park, as captured on video by Crystal Clockworks. “It was very strange to all of a sudden see all of these police and officials are suddenly interested after the damage is done,” he said.
Kabanela joined groups of volunteers who cleaned up trash, scrubbed graffiti off businesses, and helped board up the windows in businesses, later with the help of Seattle Public Utilities. A group of artists came by to spray-paint the boards with information, art, and messages of solidarity with the Black community.
The way volunteers quickly helped businesses after the vandalism is a positive note for some. Cai said Dim Sum King was swarmed with messages of support. “I am relaying every message to my parents and they are overwhelmed with the love from this community!” she wrote in the Support the ID Facebook group.
“It’s been incredible to see how everyone has really come together, and I think this really speaks to the spirit of the community,” said Tran of Friends of Little Saigon.
“The response has been super, super supportive, said Pham of Phở Bắc Súp Shop. “I think that’s the silver lining to all of it.”
The CID Restaurants and other Small Businesses Relief Fund is still accepting donations. All donations made between May 30 to June 6 will support repairs to small businesses that were damaged last weekend. If the need is greater, the organizations will consider expanding this fund. If you are a small business owner in the CID whose business was damaged, please contact [email protected] for more information.
CID community activist Matt Chan captured the mural painting on businesses in a video: