Christina Enriquez stood on the corner of 5th Avenue and Weller Street next to an electrical-box-turned-memorial site for her late son. As strangers stopped by and looked curiously, Christina began to tell them the story of her son’s life and death, and her fight to make the streets in the International District safe.
Christina’s son, Benito “Benny” Enriquez, was kicked to death near the entrance of Uwajimaya a month ago by a stranger who is still on the loose. Surveillance tapes that caught the suspect and his female companion were too blurry to identify. Benny’s family and friends who regularly speak with investigators on the case are still unable to find answers and justice for him, Christina said. Almost immediately after the incident, Christina started going to the memorial site and staying there for three hours almost every evening after she gets off from her full-time job as a public health nurse in Auburn.
“He came to me about 24 hours after his death,” said Christina. “I knew it was him—I could feel it was him and the message I received was that one, his daughters have to go to college, that’s not an option, and two, that I have to help to make the streets safe.”
Christina said she then decided to start a nonprofit organization called Safe Streets 4 Kids. She has decided to make her campaign “valid” and search for grants so that she will be taken seriously by the International District community and public officials.
“They have to listen to nonprofits, but they don’t have to listen to emotional, crying mothers,” Christina explained to a friend. “The reason why I call it ‘Safe Streets 4 Kids’ is because every person is a child of someone. I thought I can try to apply for a grant so we can have [promotional items], organize weekly neighborhood walks, I want to start here in Chinatown and go to Central District, Capitol Hill, everywhere!”
Christina has worked with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) and Neighborhood Block Watch and was able to put up a banner with information and stills from surveillance tapes on the wall of Uwajimaya. So far, Christina said that she has been able to earn the ear and support from various local politicians in Seattle and Auburn. However, she found it frustrating to get people in positions of power to help her make changes to the safety of International District streets.
“They always say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ but OK, let’s get over being sorry for my loss and let’s take action. Let’s change the streets,” Christina said. “My dream is to have regular community meetings, [figure out] how to break the codes of silence, how to talk to the communities who don’t speak English, how to report suspicious activities when you’re an undocumented citizen, et cetera.”
Besides Christina, Benny left two young daughters and his girlfriend of more than one year, Nicole Magee. Last Thursday, Magee mostly stood quietly in tears while Christina talked to strangers not only about her loss, but also about her campaign. Magee and Benny met at Rainer School, a rehabilitation center for adults with developmental disabilities in Buckley, Washington, where she is an attendant counselor and he a nurse.
Christina said that she raised Benny in the International District, where he learned how to use chopsticks before knives and forks. So it was baffling for her, that he should die in the place where he felt safest. At 6’4 and 240 lbs., Christina said everyone thought Benny would have no problem taking care of himself, but she said the incident just shows how unpredictable life is and unsafe the streets of the International District and Seattle in general are.
“I always tell him to smile, because he’s a big person. I didn’t want him to intimidate anyone,” Christina said, looking lovingly at the pictures of Benny smiling on his memorial site.
Almost every night returning to Benny’s memorial, Christina would find additional things that people left, ranging from candles to different foods to flowers. On Saturday, September 5, John and Linda Soriano of SCIDpda and Block Watch will perform a Native American blessing on Benny’s memorial site.
“At the end of the day, I just hope to bring awareness and to make his death count,” Christina said.