Seattle city council member blasts colleague over crime in Chinatown

Sep 6, 2023, 3:28 PM

Chinatown city council crime...

A pagoda greets visitors to Seattle's Chinatown-International District. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Tensions appear to be at a boiling point between two members of the Seattle City Council — Sara Nelson and Tammy Morales — ahead of Election Day as a community deals with a crime wave.

On Tuesday, Nelson stood on the corner of 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street in the Chinatown-International District (CID), nicknamed “Little Sài Gòn” by residents, and discussed a dramatic and deadly spike in violence in South Seattle.

“What’s going on in Little Sài Gòn is happening throughout District 2, which extends into Southeast Seattle. (It) seems like every couple of days we read another story in the paper here, another story on the news about something terrible happening,” Nelson said. “The shooting in the Safeway parking lot, the murder of the Uber driver in SODO, another shooting at the Hookah Lounge, and 14 home invasions that are taught targeting Asian households in Beacon Hill.”

According to Nelson, council representative Tammy Morales is ignoring the neighborhood.

“My colleagues and I get hundreds of emails from people who feel scared and abandoned and angry because they don’t feel like anybody’s listening to them at City Hall,” Nelson said. “And I can’t blame them one bit. And as I’m replying to these emails, I wonder to myself, ‘Where’s Tammy Morales in all this? And how is she responding?’ Because I know where her votes are.”

More crime news: Gun shop in Monroe smashed with car, police investigating burglary

The unusually strong rebuke follows months of council deadlock on how to handle a number of pressing issues in the city, among them police recruitment and enforcement of local drug laws.

Nelson attended Tuesday’s rally to show her open support of Tanya Woo, Morales’ opponent for the District 2 council seat. Woo, a community organizer and business owner in the Chinatown-International District, grew up on Beacon Hill and currently resides in Rainier Beach.

“We are standing at ground zero for fentanyl, sales, and use. And you can see here, and we will see later, that this is a neighborhood that’s been not long neglected,” Woo said, addressing residents about the biggest problems she sees in Little Sài Gòn. “So, why is this allowed to flourish in Little Saigon? We’ve seen a rise in burglaries also that particularly hits are non-English speaking Asian community members, not only here, but in South Seattle.”

“I’m a volunteer with the Chinatown International District community watch group,” Woo went on. “And we come up here twice a week, and we bring with us over 150 water bottles, we try to bring as many meals as we can. And it’s gone in minutes. There’s just so many people here late at night, there’s so much need, and we need resources, and we need action. And we need change. Because we’re all tired. (It has) been four years.”

Morales couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but she did respond to the event on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying, “For the record, I was not invited to this campaign event for my opponent. My question for Sara is, why were you campaigning instead of attending our Transportation committee?”

Morales and Woo advanced from August’s primary election race for District 2, garnering 49% and 45% of the vote, respectively. They will face each other in the general election Nov. 7.

Little Sài Gòn community members speak out

The latest data available from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) shows officers have responded to 542 violent crimes so far this year in South Seattle. Teizi Mersai, an operations manager for Lam’s Seafood Market in the CID, has seen a significant deterioration in the past several years.

“We had to put up a fence, which helped provide some modicum of safety for our customers,” Mersai said. “The customers are coming back, but nobody wants the fencing around. It looks like a prison.”

He said drug use and violence are especially bad at night, and he no longer feels safe walking alone in the neighborhood after dark.

“You can see huddles in just about every corner here,” Mersai said. “Just walking up here (to this event), there was a guy standing on the corner of 12th and Jackson, trying to light up a crack pipe.”

More from Seattle: Chinatown-International District sees boost in pandemic relief funds

He wants officials at City Hall to start paying attention to Little Sài Gòn and said that the city “promised a little bit more (police) patrol. Maybe the first month or so, that was happening. Now, nothing. It’s almost become one of these things where politicians were promised something get elected, and then we get forgotten.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Quynh Pham, the Executive Director of the Friends of Little Sài Gòn.

“Business owners and their employees face daily criminal activities, drug use, drug dealing, and just the general deterioration of people’s behavioral, mental and physical health,” Pham said. “This same time last year and the year before. We didn’t think it could get worse, but it has, as our community deserves effective solutions.”

Follow Kate Stone on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Seattle city council member blasts colleague over crime in Chinatown