The Wing Luke Museum was attacked by a man wielding a sledgehammer around 5:15 p.m. Thursday, and nine of the museum’s ten windows were smashed.
Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers responded to a 911 call reporting property damage, the Seattle Times reported. Police arrested a man, described by the callers as white and about 70 years old, on suspicion of a hate crime offense and first-degree malicious mischief, the Times reported.
Stanley Shikuma, co-president of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League, was inside the museum at the time of the attack after 5 p.m., part of an after-hours tour with the Japanese American immigrant and refugee advocacy group Tsuru for Solidarity. People seated in the Wing Luke Museum theater heard a loud thumping sound that they thought was construction noise, Shikuma said.
“But then it got louder, and it actually started shaking the floor,” Shikuma said. “And we heard like, glass breaking. And someone looked out the window and said, ‘there’s a guy with a sledgehammer.’”
Joining other members of Tsuru for Solidarity and Wing Luke Museum staff, Shikuma rushed out to see an older white man holding a sledgehammer, leaning it against the wall in Canton Alley. People started calling 911. Others confronted the man, asking why he was doing this.
According to Shikuma: “He kept saying, ‘it’s because of the Chinese, the Chinese are to blame, they’ve ruined my life. Something has to be done about them. That’s why I came to Chinatown. Because I’m going to take care of it.’ He just kept repeating along similar lines, those thoughts.”
People at the museum were fearful, Shikuma said. “There was a lot of fear, confusion. And anger once they realized that it was someone attacking the building,” he said.
They wondered if the man had a gun. “You’re thinking you know, this could turn into a mass shooting event.”
Joël Tan, executive director of the Wing Luke Museum, said they came upon a chaotic scene of loud noises and broken glass.
“We don’t know what to make of it in terms of, you know, the perpetrator’s state of mind, but they seem pretty agitated, at times confused,” Tan recalled. “We took the sledgehammer away from them, not knowing if they had more weapons.”
While Wing Luke Museum staff were waiting, Tan said, they called 911 a second time but were told not to call back, and to keep waiting. “That 911 pushback, that was utter bullshit,” Tan said. “That really caused a serious panic. And so we did the opposite.”
Tan called a deputy mayor and others — “anyone we could talk to to get immediate police response here,” they said.
After waiting a half hour for police response, Shikuma sent an email of concern to Mayor Harrell’s office.
Police officers responded about 45 minutes after the attack, arresting the man and taking witness statements.
Shikuma is concerned and angered by the delay in response. He wondered if the police’s attitude was, “another broken window in Chinatown, who cares? Happens all the time,” Shikuma said.
“The other thought is that, ‘we’re too busy doing security and traffic at the Beyoncé concert. We don’t have time for this.’ To run three blocks away to deal with something in Chinatown. And the third thought passing through my mind is, ‘it’s just Asians who gives a shit?’ So I mean, that’s what I was feeling in the moment.”
Police arrived around 6 p.m. to arrest the man, who seemed to Shikuma like he was resigned to being taken in by police. The man was saying, “‘They can arrest me, they can do whatever they want. My life is over, the Chinese have ruined it.’ So he was still blaming the Chinese but he didn’t try to leave,” Shikuma said.
The estimated value of the smashed windows is $100,000, the Seattle Times reported, quoting police spokesperson Detective Valerie Carson.
Tan was heartened by the response from the CID neighborhood, with people immediately helping clean up glass, providing each other moral support, World Pizza delivering pizzas. “It was more of that wonderful neighborhood goodness that comes out,” they said.
But Tan did not want to downplay the long-term impact of the attack. “There’s always that moment where we respond heroically, creatively, with humor. But this kind of grief and trauma has a really long tail,” they said. “And our staff and the folks in this neighborhood are just kind of like buckling from that long tail.”
“It’s like, how much more can you take? Because it’s just one thing after the next.”
For Shikuma, the attack reveals systemic injustices, an inflammatory and xenophobic climate stoked by fear mongering about Asian people and China, such as former president Donald Trump’s blaming the country for the COVID-19 pandemic, and right wing commentators trying to stoke a war with China. Such rhetoric contributes to a climate in which the attacker – who mentioned losing housing and his car – might decide to target Asian Americans.
“If you’re a violent person or not in a very good frame of mind, what are you going to do?” Shikuma said. “What if he had taken a sledgehammer to people instead, because he was mad at the Chinese?”
“Like most racists, [the alleged attacker] doesn’t distinguish anything,” Shikuma continued. “Like, I’m Japanese, there are Filipinos, Koreans. But he decides to attack the Wing Luke. The PRC [People’s Republic of China] does not own the Wing Luke. And he decides to attack the cornerstone of the Asian American community in the Seattle area.”
Shikuma also sees a troubling connection between the slow police response and the lack of arrests made in connection with 14 home invasion robberies reported in South Seattle, all of them targeting Asian Americans.
On September 6, the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) posted an image captured by doorbell camera of two armed suspects approaching an Asian man on his porch in Beacon Hill before robbing him on Aug. 26, with language suggesting the police are limited in how they can respond due to a lack of funding. “Due to low staffing numbers, this poor man has not been contacted by an SPD detective since his attack two weeks ago,” SPOG tweeted. “With 600 officers gone, now people like Mr. Cao are left to pick up the pieces.”
The attitude from SPOG, Shikuma said, is akin to: “If you give us more money, maybe we’ll start working on it. Like, we don’t deserve protection or investigation, because we live in the South End, we don’t speak English.”
The attack on the Wing Luke Museum, a community center for Asian Americans, and the lack of prompt response, is just another disheartening example of the neighborhood’s neglect, Shikuma said.
“They’ll always say, whether it’s the police or the City, that this is an isolated incident,” Shikuma said. “But when you have a series of them, it becomes a pattern. It becomes a systemic problem. And I think that’s what we’re facing. If nobody with the responsibility or the power to deal with that sees it that way, then it’s going to continue happening.”
Tan said the Wing Luke Museum and numerous other businesses and organizations are feeling the need to bolster their security. “We also acknowledge that we have, in many ways, more resources and access than [other] small businesses and organizations,” they said.
In a statement obtained by the International Examiner, Mayor Harrell’s office condemned the attack. “We are relieved that no one was injured. The targeting of a cherished institution and our AAPI community is completely unacceptable.”
“We recognize a targeted incident like this will also have lasting psychological scars on this community that has already experienced a rise in bias incidents and hate crimes over the last several years,” the statement continued. “Our office will continue to work with community liaisons from the Department of Neighborhoods, SPD’s crime prevention team in the CID, and community partners to restore and rebuild trust.”
According to the statement, Harrell’s office spoke with Wing Luke Museum leadership “and will continue to reach out to them and the impacted community to understand how we can best support them during this time.”
According to the statement, Harrell’s office “will defer to SPD for any details on the response, investigation, and arrest.”
The statement added that: “An incident like this underscores the importance of recruiting and retaining officers to ensure a well-staffed department, as we work to build a Seattle Police Department that reflects the diversity of the neighbors it serves and that responds to the needs of the community in a swift, appropriate, and culturally competent manner.”
When it comes to the Mayor’s office and the city’s response to the incident, Tan said they are “cautiously optimistic.”
“We appreciate the cooperation we’re getting now and the opportunities that this is opening up or more collaboration to advance our precious neighborhood,” they said. “But we know that it’s going to have to happen in the short, medium, and long term.”
In the big picture, Tan said the Wing Luke Museum will not be deterred by the attack and the hate it represents.
“[The attacker] went to make a statement I think, in part to rally other people who have the same fears, and the same kind of grief,” Tan said. “And what we’re doing by staying open today is making it very clear that we will not cower.”
“At the same time, we’re asking ourselves internally without knowing the answers yet, what dignity can we afford everyone who is involved in this?” Tan added.
“Because right now, outrage will just breed more outrage around this….This is a situation where mental health issues could come in. Think of any despair that we’re all feeling in the current moment that’s been unexpressed or unconscious, and you have a powder keg. So how can we be audacious in our compassion, in affording everyone their dignity in this?”
Those interested can donate to the Wing Luke Museum at https://www.wingluke.org/donate. Wing Luke Museum executive director Joël Tan notes that donors can indicate whether they’d like their donation to be directed toward general operating, capital repair, or the Chinese American Legacy Arts Project.