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caption: Kert Lin stands for a portrait on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Seattle. He was the target of anti-Asian slurs.
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Kert Lin stands for a portrait on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Seattle. He was the target of anti-Asian slurs.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Police Department investigating officer's handling of racist incident at Home Depot

The department's Office of Police Accountability is reviewing what happened after a man called 911 to report being the target of anti-Asian slurs.

He says the responding officer was dismissive of his complaint, despite the department recently urging the public to report bias incidents.

Seattle teacher Kert Lin said as he was driving into the SoDo Home Depot parking lot on May 12, "these gentlemen in their large landscaping vehicle with their signage and phone number painted all over it yelled at me 'Hey ch---! Open your eyes! Go back to China!'

"I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

After he parked his car, Lin went to take a picture of the contact information on the side of the truck. Lin said the driver, who had been the one yelling, told him that calling the landscaping company was useless, because he's the owner.

The man then repeated the same slur in front of a Home Depot security guard, Lin said, who did nothing as the men from the landscaping truck walked into the store.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has urged people to call 911 to report bias incidents, including in a recent video with longtime Seattle news anchor Lori Matsukawa, following an uptick in racist harassment of Asian Americans related to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We will document and investigate every reported hate crime," Best said in the video. "Even racist name-calling should be reported to police. We take this information very seriously."

But when Lin reported the incident to the Seattle Police Department, he said, the responding officer told him there was nothing to be done.

"He wanted to clarify if there was a direct threat made against me, which I said there was not. He asked if I feared my immediate safety. I said I did not," Lin said.

"And so he concluded by saying these gentlemen were using their First Amendment rights, and they did nothing illegal."

Lin said he understood that a crime may not have been committed. But he asked the officer what the police have been told do in cases of racist harassment.

"He just said there's no protocol, no directive," Lin said.

Seattle Police Department spokesperson Lauren Truscott told KUOW by email that the department learned of Lin's experience in a social media post, and that Chief Best has been in touch with him.

The department said in a statement that the incident is under investigation, including by the Office of Police Accountability regarding how the officer handled the situation.

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

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