John Yasutake, center, and other community leaders gathered at Benefit Playground in Beacon Hill • Photo by Phil Manzano

This piece originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, republished here with permission.

Representatives from community organizations called for greater community involvement and solidarity in the wake of more than a dozen home invasions and attacks on elderly Asians in the South End.

At a press conference Tuesday, Black and Asian speakers condemned the violence and demanded more support for law enforcement and grassroots community efforts and also spoke against efforts to view the violence through a racial lens.

“One of the things that we have been discussing as members of OCA, (OCA-Greater Seattle) as well as other organizations … this is not a racial thing, this is a criminal thing,” said John Yasutake. “And that’s why we want to impress upon everybody, including the media and everyone else, that this is not a divisive kind of action or an attempt. This is something to bring us all together as a coalition, as a group, to make a limited effort to quell the issue of crime, because crime, as I say, affects everybody.”

Last week, Seattle Police held a press conference at South Precinct disclosing 14 incidents had been reported, starting in June and including eight in August, where elderly Asians were targeted for attacks in the South End.

“And this involves either assaulting them with a firearm or holding them at gunpoint and going into their homes, and they are stealing items of high value,” said Det. Judinna Gulpan. “So that can be jewelry and large amounts of cash within their residence. They are seen either arriving and, or, leaving the area most of the time in a Kia or Hyundai vehicle.”

One particularly heinous attack, shared on social media, shows an Asian man walking up to a home and being attacked from behind by a man holding a gun and a second robber who tasered him. As he lay stunned and immobile, the robbers pulled jewelry off him and unsuccessfully tried to pry a ring off his finger before running away.

The victim, Dat Cao, was supposed to join the group Tuesday and speak about his experience, but he was too shaken to appear, said Kim-Khánh Vǎn, a Renton City Councilmember and Vietnamese interpreter.

She shared some quotes from Cao, “I have a lot of flashbacks of the incident.” In tears, he told her, “I’m extremely afraid, I’m very afraid. … I can’t sleep at night, I’m very afraid driving near the incident.” Cao doesn’t live at the home where he was attacked but was picking up mail there, Van said.

Speaking on behalf of Cao, Vǎn said that he wants to see action from the city. “He wants to make sure that this doesn’t happen again to any other families, regardless of their ethnicity and race,” she said. “He wants to make sure that everyone should feel safe at home, in their neighborhoods. Those with limited English speaking abilities should be able to have access to the government, that these things happening was unacceptable. He’s just blessed and grateful that he’s still alive to tell us.”

At the South Precinct press conference, Lt. John O’Neil emphasized that police are not labeling these incidents as hate crimes though Asians are apparently being targeted.

“But we want to make sure that you know, we know, and the public knows, that this is not a hate crime,” O’Neil said. “This is people that are trying to attack our vulnerable adults in our community. … Hate crimes are targeted against people because of their ethnicity and this is more about people that they think are easy targets, and that’s what we’re finding so far.”

Some speakers Sunday shared how crime had touched their lives no matter their ethnic background, and others recalled times when the South End was a closer-knit community and spoke of the need to provide greater opportunity for young people.

“We have these young men out here with no direction,” said Mike Bethea, basketball coach at Rainier Beach High School. “Young men, young women, who are being recruited by people to do their dirty work.”

Bethea said he was in Las Vegas when security cameras alerted him and showed people kicking in their door and breaking into their Seattle home.

“(There’s) no more helpless feeling in the world than to have something like that happen to you,” Bethea said. “So I can only imagine, my heart goes out to my brothers that we were talking about earlier, they’re coming in while they’re in there. I mean, I can’t even, I wouldn’t even know how I would deal with that.”

Bethea echoed a theme of neighbors supporting one another but also rigorously holding political and city leaders accountable to keep communities safe.

“One way we can deal with it is having each other’s backs,” Bethea said. “You know, we need to be able to call on each other, I mean, look out for each other. When we see something happen, we need to be able to call and then we need to hold the powers that be accountable. Period. You know, if they’re not going to — and we have that power — if they’re not going to do what we’ve elected them to do, then it’s time for us to put in there, the people in there, who are going to do the things we need them to do to take our community back.”

Marty Jackson, executive director of SE Network SafetyNet (members of SafetyNet’s Safe Passage program were wounded in a July 28 shooting at the Rainier Beach Safeway), agreed there needs to be accountability and consequences.

But she also said there was also a deep need for restorative justice, “because we can lock up everybody until there’s no one left … we know we don’t want to go back to that time because that’s happened before.”

Maria Batayola, chair of the Beacon Hill Council, described the community as “70% People of Color, 50% Asian, 10% Black and African, and 10% Latino — a diverse and healthy community, but you’re not healthy if you’re scared, if you’re feeling like any moment your life can change because you’re traumatized,” she said.

She also argued against stereotyping Asians as being quiet, always harmonious and not making trouble. She scanned the crowd, “look at our audience, these are activists … so shake it up.” She added that there is a need for immediate steps and for long-term funding for programs to help youth.

Police believe that the 14 home-invasion crime pattern may be underreported and asked that anyone with information call the Violent Crimes Tip Line at (206) 233-5000 and call 911 if they witness a crime occurring.

“SPD wants to ensure these communities know that we are actively investigating the home invasion cases and working diligently to restore public safety,” police said in a press release.

SPD also included these tips for personal safety:

  • Make safety your number one priority.
  • Be observant and remain alert — trust your instincts.
  • Be aware of your surroundings — call 911 when you observe suspicious activity.
  • Communication with friends and family on who will be home and at what time.
  • Security devices and or sounding alarms — potentially located at doors, windows, and garages.
  • Option of video surveillance system.
  • Motion sensor lighting for entrances, exits, and parking areas.
  • Avoid keeping large amounts of cash within your home.
  • Participate in your local neighborhood watch.
  • Contact your local precinct Crime Prevention Coordinator for questions on security and prevention tips for crime in your area.
Previous articleComposer Jackie An explores addiction and recovery in new string trio composition
Next article“Manzanar Mosaic: Essays and Oral Histories on America’s First World War II Japanese American Concentration Camp” is a great historical guide