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Man says officer shrugged off racist incident at Home Depot, Seattle police say they’re investigating

Kert Lin, 35, says a man directed racist remarks at him in front of a Home Depot store in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood on May 12 and that neither Home Depot personnel nor police did anything. (Ken Lambert / Seattle Times)
Kert Lin, 35, says a man directed racist remarks at him in front of a Home Depot store in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood on May 12 and that neither Home Depot personnel nor police did anything. (Ken Lambert / Seattle Times)
By Lynda V. Mapes Seattle Times

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has followed up on a complaint from a man who says he was the target of racist remarks at the Home Depot store in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, and the department is investigating what it’s classifying as a bias incident following a post about the exchange on Facebook, the department said Sunday.

Kert Lin of Seattle said he wrote the Facebook post to shed light on the incident he said started in the driveway to The Home Depot and continued to the front door of the store.

Lin said he was cut off by a driver on the way into the store. When the two arrived in the parking lot, the driver who had cut him off said a racial slur against people of Asian descent, Lin said, followed by, “Open your eyes, go back to China.” Lin said the driver then goaded him to get out of his car as Lin called 911.

Lin photographed the man and his truck and license plate.

“Three men got out of their vehicle and security did not address them,” Lin said. “Security told me don’t even bother calling police. They were welcomed to the store and did their shopping. They smiled at me and waved as they left.”

Lin said he then went into the store and was told by the manager on duty there was nothing to be done because “we do not control what others do.” Another manager in the store was more supportive, Lin said, but the answer he says he got from a customer care team representative at Home Depot headquarters was the same as the dismissal by the manager on duty.

Next, Lin said, a Seattle police officer arrived and instructed him that, because he had not been physically threatened, no crime had occurred.

Lin, aware that during the coronavirus pandemic threats and slurs against people of Asian descent are on the rise, said he asked the officer whether there is a directive to officers to police against bias and racism.

“He said nope, uh-uh, there’s nothing,” Lin said. The officer took no report, Lin said, and left.

Margaret Smith, a spokeswoman at Home Depot’s headquarters office in Atlanta, wrote in an emailed statement to the Seattle Times,”We would never condone these types of comments. We’re discussing this with our security partners to reinforce our values and the importance of working with local law enforcement when incidents like this arise between customers. Our management would have done more but unfortunately we didn’t have the other customer’s information for follow up.”

Lin received a call from Chief Carmen Best.

“She apologized,” Lin said.

But what Lin really wants, he said, is to hear rank and file officers as distressed about what happened as he is.

“Unfortunately until their officers are willing to speak out about this, there is nothing more my voice can do other than continue to shed light,” said Lin, a 35-year-old kindergarten teacher who went to the same school where he now teaches.

Sgt. Lauren Truscott wrote in an email to the Seattle Times that Chief Best did call Lin following the incident. But Truscott stated she was not certain what the call was about or what Chief Best said.

The department released a statement about the incident Sunday.

“The Seattle Police Department regards reports of bias incidents and crimes with the utmost seriousness,” the statement said. “In recent years the Department has worked diligently with our Asian American community to develop their trust in reporting bias crimes to the police.

“The incident has been documented in a report and forwarded to the Bias Crimes Coordinator for further investigation,” the statement continued. “The incident in its entirety, has been forwarded to the Office of Police Accountability for further review.

“The department is committed to documenting and investigating all bias incidents and crimes. The Department encourages anyone who feels they have been victimized to call 911.”

The incident left Lin with a deep sense of disappointment, particularly as he reflects on history, midway through Asian Pacific American Heritage month as declared by the Washington state Legislature in 2000.

“No bystander intervened,” he said. “No employee intervened or said anything. No police officer did. It is the heart of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and here we are supposed to be celebrating our heritage and we are in fear and we are ignored.

“From the individual who did this, to the business, to the city officials, to the regular citizens, this was really disappointing.

“I feel like we are ignored. I feel like I was ignored. By every level of society and we as a community have suffered through this throughout our entire history in this country, and in Seattle.”

What Lin wants out of this experience is bigger than a response to him alone, or the officer involved. He said he wants change at SPD.

“The police department should feel like everyone’s police department,” he said.

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