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February 22, 2007

Seattle: A World Class City -- Violence and Bigotry Included

Two nights ago the owner of my neighborhood deli was assaulted by two drunks who now sit in jail, charged with a hate crime. I hope they get convicted and sentenced to the fullest extent of the law.

Steve Saleh is a hardworking businessman. Last year, the deli's TV was constantly tuned to the World Soccer Tournament and he patiently put up with all my questions -- "What just happened? Who's winning? WHO got a red flag?". He's also a very warm and funny guy who always wishes me "good luck!" on the rare occasion I buy a Lotto ticket along with my Advil, licorice or root beer and I'm sure he means it too, since I've promised that if he sells me a winning ticket he and his family will get a nice, two-week vacation at my expense! Steve is a well-liked, valued member of my community. And I'm really angry about what happened to him Tuesday night.

Saleh, who emigrated from Yemen 20 years ago, has been the target of racism before, especially in the wake of 9/11. This time, the woman kept calling him an obscenity and "un-American" when he refused to sell her beer because of her rude behavior, he said. He asked them to leave.

They entered just before 10:30 p.m., while Saleh's 18-year-old nephew was working the counter.

"It was very hurtful to hear it and very scary to go through it," Saleh said.

But unlike Saleh's past encounters with bigotry, Tuesday's events took a violent turn. The man took off his jacket and lurched over the counter, grabbing for Saleh's throat. Saleh slid away and grabbed a metal bar behind the counter and ordered them out of his store. The man again lunged at him and Saleh pushed him away, loudly warning him.

When the man lunged again, Saleh struck him two or three times in the shoulder and ordered him to get onto the floor.

"I kept saying, 'Please don't make me hit you in the head,'" Saleh said. "I was really fearing for my life."

The drunken woman also called Steve "a terrorist", told him to "go back to where he came from" and left her teeth marks in his hand. This isn't the first time Seattle has seen bigotry of Middle Easterners take a violent turn. The fire at the Northgate Mosque and the stabbing of a woman in West Seattle were well-publicized.

9-11 didn't exactly bring out the best in everyone. But 9-11 is not the reason for hatred, it's merely a convenient catalyst, in the same way that alcohol cannot be blamed for a hate crime. The alcohol nakedly exposed an existing but, as yet, unexpressed bigotry.

My neighborhood has seen a recent uptick in violence. Earlier in the week, a few blocks from Saleh's Deli, a woman was shot in the leg when, unbeknownst to her, a personal little war was flaring up. Vandalism has become de rigueur. My elderly neighbor across the street asked me if I'd seen the new graffiti on the telephone poll in front of her house and on all the doors of the community center. Another neighbor has had his car broken into four times in the last year. My next-door neighbors, and the neighbors behind me, have had their houses broken into. Our community has shared phone calls and emails and held meetings with our precinct's police captain and community service officer. We know the drill, we have the safety information, and we want to believe them when they promise to do patrols around the playfield, in hopes of catching the thieves, the vandals and the drug dealers.

But when it comes right down to it, all we've got is each other -- neighbors who hold block watch parties, get together for potlucks and frisbee and pizza night out. We're community council members who meet regularly to continue the work of looking out for each other's needs. I'm happy to say I've never lived in a neighborhood where I didn't know everyone on my block, and the next block too.

When I walked into Saleh's Deli today, Steve was greeting all those who came by to check up on him and his family. He was wading through the gifts, the cakes and the flowers that had been amassing over the past two days. Bad things can happen in any community, even the ones that are thought to be "safe". When the sun goes down I want to know that my community feels whole and connected, no matter what's out there. I hope that tonight Steve and his family feel a little better knowing they're part of our community. I know I feel better for having them in it.

Posted by shoephone on February 22, 2007 at 11:00 PM in Taking Action, Washington Culture | Permalink



I'm so glad that Steve and his family are a part of your lovely neighborhood. Thanks for writing that great post with its rich description of community and connectivity.

Posted by: Lynn | Feb 22, 2007 11:15:26 PM

One resource the world isn't running out of is bigots. Saleh sounds like a good person; I don't know if I'd have been as restrained in his place. The two folks who assaulted him are where they deserve to be. It's good that you and other members of your community are speaking out (read the comments to the Seattle Times link if you haven't already). That's probably the best way to confront this sort of prejudice. Those people are the ones who are un-American, and we need to say so.

You're right about the effect of alcohol. The attitude had to be there for the alcohol to bring it out. It's amazing though, how many crimes are committed by people under the influence. I think sometimes we'd be better off without it.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Feb 22, 2007 11:31:16 PM

Thanks for writing this up Shoephone, although it's local to Seattle it has become endemic to America, this rise of violence and bigotry. The wingnut thugs with the tacit approval and assistance of BushCo have made violence of this type de rigeur and I fear it will get worse before it gets better. We saw this brand of lawlessness in an abandoned NOLA for the weeks after Katrina because when our "leaders" cross the line of common decency and lawful behavior, that is all some people need to act out in this heinous way. I fear for our national identity and the lessons we are now teaching our children. Thank you for the heartfelt post.

Posted by: HopeSpringsATurtle | Feb 23, 2007 2:44:00 PM

I found your site because I was trying to find a way to get in touch with Mr. Saleh. If you can, please let him know that his dignity, intelligence and humanity are a greater condemnation of the two ignorant people who attacked him than anything the courts could give. It may not seem so now, but for every ignorant, loud bigot, there are dozens who recognize that Mr. Saleh represents all that is good about America--people who just work hard and contribute to society.

Posted by: KH | Feb 25, 2007 12:47:26 PM

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