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City’s public safety meeting strays from safety needs, but ‘off to a good start’

Maren Meyer
Southeast Asia Weekly

Community members at a public safety meeting at the CID on Nov. 10. (Provided by: Chuanghua)

It’s hard to tell from the photo whether Matt Chan’s surprised and angry expression came from his cancer diagnosis or what he heard at a public safety meeting at the mayor’s office. The flat, tired, weather-beaten look on his face is that of a man sitting back down after a failed attempt to get up, stunned.

It may represent how the community feels.

During the lengthy protests and meetings that Chen helped lead, he has been battling a tumor on his kidney that has since spread to his lungs.

So when he bursts out and tells officials it’s time for them to listen more to the community, he has nothing to lose not only for himself, but for the Chinatown International District (CID).

His disease is being treated with immunotherapy, which seems to be working. But problems with CID may not be curable.

“From the beginning, both deputy mayors said they had time constraints,” said Chen, who resigned as the city’s special adviser on public engagement after his diagnosis.
“They’ll ask a question and move on, often moving to areas that aren’t directly related to CID. So I ask them to keep their answers short and let the community members speak because they’re there to hear us.”

Chan’s frustrations are even shared by community members who see the conclave as a good start to a conversation between the city and the CID, as he does.

The meeting, held on Nov. 10, was attended by Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell and Deputy Mayor Greg Wong, who invited about 40 community “stakeholders,” though it’s not entirely clear how the list was compiled.

According to Wong, the purpose of the meeting was to continue the dialogue with the community on issues raised by its advocates as they fight to stop the expansion of a nearby homeless shelter, which already has 18 in an area-mile radius area.

It will also provide “updates on programs launched by the City that immediately address some of the [these] problem,” Wong said in an email.

futile history

Still, Harrell and Wong face an uphill battle. On the one hand, community advocates argue that City Hall has been largely unengaged in their protests and efforts to stop the large complex shelter expansion, though city officials did hold several meetings with the organizers.

But perhaps a deeper sense of distrust and helplessness stems from a sense of déjà vu—that officials have asked communities to come up with public safety plans in the past, only to have them ignore them. In the past decade, the government has requested or commissioned 20 public safety programs, according to a report by community consultant Trang Tu.

“There is a history of asking the community to come up with a public safety plan, but then nothing is done,” Tanya Woo told Northwest Asia Weekly after the meeting.

Woo has been spearheading efforts to ask cities and counties for funding to correct past harm and implement current programs.

“We’ve got solutions, but no funding,” she said.

Still, some community members said they thought they saw Wong with the CID Public Safety Committee’s latest public safety plan in his hand during the meeting.

Absent: Public Safety Program

After the meeting, some community members and organizers present expressed a sense of betrayal, saying that the proposals presented during the meeting had nothing to do with public safety, drug use, vandalism, theft, armed Loot and harass residents.

“It doesn’t do anything to improve public safety,” said longtime community advocate Frank Irigon. “It’s a PR stunt.”

During the meeting, according to community members present, International Community Health Services (ICHS) President and CEO Teresita Batayola described a shooting in the lobby of an assisted living community operated by ICHS . Police did not respond, she said. They also did not respond to multiple other life-threatening incidents, according to a letter she published in the newspaper.

Police staffing at historic low

In response to these concerns, Wong wrote, “Decades of public safety concerns cannot be resolved overnight.”

As for slow or negligent police responses, he pointed to the lack of available officers — city statistics show the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has lost more than 400 officers over the past few years.

“In response to community demands and despite constraints, including the SPD’s staffing crisis – the department currently has the fewest deployable police officers in the past 30 years – we have and will continue to implement programs and police presence to provide effective , sustainable security.”

Not a welcoming community?

From left: Chinese Donor Aaron Hwang, Chinese Association President Lim Mei Rui, Community Organizer Tanya Woo, Deputy Mayor Greg Wong, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell and Chinese Donor TC Lo (Photo courtesy of Chong Wa)

But some community advocates argue that CIDs are treated differently than other communities. Zhou Boen, chairman of the Outreach Committee of the China Charity Association, sent an article about the shooting incident in the University District to Asia Weekly. They indicated that the SPD increased patrols there three days after the incident.

While community members said they saw more law enforcement officers driving past the CID, it was unclear whether the city was acting as quickly as it had in the University District.


Harrell and Wang lacked concrete commitments, according to some who attended the meeting.

“It’s just a lot of — ‘We’re going to see what happens in the budget,'” Woo said.

Felicita Irigon said she was so frustrated with the lack of commitment from officials that she added the f- word to her comments.

“We met, we met, we talked, we talked, but nothing happened,” she said.

Zhou said officials may not realize that the CID has become a “ghost town” where windows are boarded up and people routinely use drugs on the streets.

“Nobody wants to come here at night,” he said.

Responding to such concerns, Wong noted that the city “currently funds CID’s programs, including direct funding to community organizations, as well as strategic planning, community public safety liaison, and more.”

The city will continue to look for opportunities to provide funding, he said.

“We are fully committed to improving public safety at CID,” he said.

shorten the distance

Chan said he was impressed by the fact that Harrell and Wong met with community members in person, noting that others, such as City Councilor Tammy Morales, did not.

“What I found different was that they said it would be a ‘special conversation’ that would continue,” Liu said.

Lin Mei-Jui, the president of Chong Wa, said officials were very careful about how the meeting was set up, and she was specifically instructed to make sure everyone was seated in an equal fashion — not just for Harrell and Wong.

“They wanted to get closer,” she said.

The meeting was held at the headquarters in China.

Pilot project: so far so good

The city’s eight-week pilot sanitation program is widely believed to have resulted in cleaner streets and alleys, at least in the short term.

“We’re not always on tit for tat anymore,” said Woo, who helps lead neighborhood patrols a few nights a week, delivering food, clothing and hot chocolate to people living in homeless encampments.

But at the same time, the plan’s simplicity and uncertainty about whether it will continue raises new questions.

Other community members said the city’s reluctance to commit for more than eight weeks was “racist.”

Asked about the future of the pilot program, Wong pointed to the expansion of the city’s so-called “unified care teams,” which include staff engaging with street residents, developing relationships and encouraging them to move to shelters, which has accelerated encampment clearance.

other urgent needs

Due to the lack of police, community safety programs require the hiring of security personnel (unarmed or armed) to patrol neighborhoods. As the continual stream of multiple burglaries, smashed windows, burglaries and armed robberies has become the order of the day, many businesses are locked into multi-year leases that their insurance companies will no longer cover. Zhou proposed at the meeting that the city insure CID businesses that cannot get insurance.

“We need municipalities to buy insurance for businesses,” he said. The city also needs to help businesses remove the boards covering their storefronts, he said.

In his email response, Wong didn’t rule anything out, though he didn’t respond to specific community complaints.

“At this meeting, we were asked about the temporary nature of the pilot program and how to make it permanent. So there is something in the Mayor’s proposed budget that supports these priorities expressed by the CID,” he said.

“The purpose of this meeting is to listen to and respond to the needs of the community.”

Support the mayor’s budget

Some community members came away with the impression that they were asked by the city to show support for the mayor’s budget so they could get any support. Irigon said his takeaway is that the city says, “Unless you support our budget and increase funding for the SPD, you’re not going to get any support for public safety.”

“They encourage people to go to city budget meetings,” Liu said.

Others believe the main purpose of the meeting was to encourage community members to attend city council budget meetings in support of the budget. For the most part, though, longtime political observers say the mayor’s budget is passed by the city council with little change.

“Public safety improvements in the Chinatown International District do not depend on public support for the mayor’s budget, but sustainable improvements do require adequate funding for the mayor’s priorities,” Wong said.

Join the Social Democratic Party

Officials also called on community members to join the SPD. Some attendees were outraged, noting that there weren’t any Asian Americans on the command staff (Capt. Steve Hirjak recently sued the SPD for discrimination).

“We encourage residents across the city to apply to join the police department – ​​something we emphasized at our citywide meeting. Mayor Harrell believes the SPD should reflect the diversity of our city by being committed to community policing. Having officers who come from our communities and know our communities It will only enhance their ability to serve the community,” Wong said.
Many at the meeting were cautiously optimistic about future contacts.

“You have to give people the benefit of the doubt, or you’re not going to work together,” said Connie Suo, president of OCA’s Asia Pacific Advocates of Greater Seattle and professor of American ethnic studies at Seattle University. washington. “But you also have to call them out, and people don’t always do that.”

During a recent King County Council budget hearing, community organizer and CID Public Safety Committee member Gary Lee shared a map showing 18 shelters near CID.

Lee said he shared the information in a meeting with Harrell and Wong, explaining that the concentration of shelters was due to vague zoning requirements.

Officials promised to follow up with him, and he sent them an email requesting a meeting.
“They told us, ‘If you have a problem, you don’t need to protest, just email us,'” Lee said. “But if they don’t follow through, I’ll be there protesting again.”

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