Stuck at a stoplight on Steilacoom Blvd and South Tacoma Way today, I couldn’t help but notice a half dozen businessmen putting up a very large sign. They secured it to trees that line the busy boulevard, and I watched as they moved the sign up a few inches and then down a few inches in an effort to make it straight. The large letters on the sign were in Korean, so initially I couldn’t make out what it said, but then a few of the men stepped back, and I saw the pictures of the four faces that have become so familiar over these recent and sad days.
After the sign was in place, and respectfully straight, the men stood talking. Their heads hung low, no doubt feeling like the rest of us, depressed by the inescapable reality that people who dedicated their lives to serving and protecting a community had been murdered. I decided to pull over and, if only for a minute, stand in solidarity with them.
They told me that before noon on Sunday, with helicopters circling overhead, they, and fellow members of Lakewood’s Korean American Police Advisory Group, LKAPAG, gathered in a coffee shop for an emergency meeting. Shock turned to grief as they absorbed the horrific news. Simon Hong, a member of the group, said they immediately began discussing how best they could serve at such a terrible time. These slain police officers were more than just respected members of the community, Hong said, they were friends.
Formed in 2005, LKAPAG is a volunteer citizen group whose mission is to provide a partnership between the Lakewood Police Department and the Korean-American community. There are over 200 Korean-American businesses in Lakewood, and, as Hong is quick to point out, the Lakewood Police Department continually provides an invaluable service.
One of the partnership programs LKAPAG is most proud of is the “Summer Police Youth Safety Camp.” The ages of students who attend the camp range from 11 to 17. They come from four different counties including Pierce, Thurston, King, and Snohomish. The program is the only one of its kind in Washington State. It is strongly supported by local Korean-American businesses, but it is the enthusiasm of the Lakewood officers, Hong says, that make it a success. Campers participate in mock trials, get up close and personal with police K-9s, and talk with members of the SWAT team. Support for the camp is just one of the ways LKAPAG shows its appreciation for the Lakewood police.
Immediately following the emergency meeting on Sunday, Hong tells me the LKAPAG put a rush order on the signs that are now in many of the store windows. I followed Hong into the Miro Cafe, where he showed me a condolence book that has been put in place for members of the community to sign, as well as a drop box for donations that will be given to the officer’s families.
Before the citywide vigil at 7 pm on Wednesday, another one will gather at 4:30 pm in the parking lot on the corner of Steilacoom Blvd. and South Tacoma Way in Lakewood. There, the Korean-American community will light candles, sing songs and be a visible sign of support for the officers who they came to know so well. “Well enough,” Hong says, “that they greeted us in Korean.”
The entire mission of the LKAPAG is to build trust and partnership between the Lakewood Police and the Korean-American community. Judging by all the sad faces in the Miro Cafe, I’d say this mission has been accomplished.