Steve Saleh, a convenience store owner in Ballard, was assaulted by two people in his store on Feb. 20. Seattle police incident reports note that the alleged assailants appeared to be drunk. Saleh says they were bigots.
Nichol Kirk, 25, and Brian Lappin, 35, were both arrested and jailed. On Feb. 22 the pair were were charged in King County Superior Court with malicious harassment, or a hate crime. If convicted, the two could face as many as 9 months in jail.
The assault started, according to Saleh, 43, with Kirk and Lappin entering Saleh’s Deli 80th Street N.W. in the quiet, residential part of Ballard. They began, according to Saleh, quietly slurring Saleh and his establishment while picking up a six-pack. Saleh was born in Yemen.
Kirk tried to pay Saleh’s nephew, also working at the time, with a Safeway Club Card. Saleh stepped in to decline the offer, not only because of the card but because Kirk and Lappin appeared to be drunk.
Then, says Saleh, Lappin became insistent. On a security tape, a man’s voice is heard saying, “Yes, you will serve her!” Saleh refused again and Kirk is heard on the tape calling Saleh “un-American.”
Lappin then lunged over the store’s counter for Saleh’s neck. Kirk shouted, “You’re not American, you’re Arabian. Go back to your country you goddamn Gandhi.”
Saleh managed to get a metal pipe from behind the counter to fend them off.
“I didn’t want to hit them,” he says. “They’re so close I can feel their spit on my face, I’m yelling from the top of my head, ‘Get back! Get Back!’” Both Lappin and Kirk charged at him numerous times, according to Saleh.
“The whole time I am thinking, ‘What do I do? God, what do I do? I don’t want to hit them, God.’ One hit on the head [with the metal pipe] could kill someone! I couldn’t live my life knowing I’ve killed somebody.”
Saleh struck Lappin’s arm and shoulder to keep him off.
“You’re not an American you’re a piece of shit,” Kirk, the woman, screams on the security tape. “You don’t hit Americans!”
By the time police arrived on the scene, Lappin and Saleh were standing off. Kirk was on the floor, her mouth bloodied. The blood was Saleh’s, from where she bit him on the hand.
On their way out, says Saleh, Kirk yelled at a taxicab driver (who they’d also allegedly tried to pay with a Safeway card), an African immigrant. They told him to leave the country, according to Saleh.
It’s not the first time Saleh’s Deli has faced racism. Soon after the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, his store’s dumpsters were tagged “TOWL HEADS,” a common anti-Arab slur. During the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006, Saleh says, his nephew was assaulted, singled out for his Arab appearance.
The outpouring of neighborhood support following the Feb. 20 assault left the store flooded with flowers, cards, good will—and business-as-usual. Saleh jokes with his customers that he’s “been in Ballard so long he’s nearly Scandinavian.”
Saleh’s Deli will celebrate its 12th anniversary later this year.
One customer, Heidi Siegelbaum, wasn’t surprised the assault happened, “just saddened,” as she puts it.
“We live in a culturally isolated country,” she says, “in a time where there’s a lot of confusion about Middle Eastern politics. Meeting diverse people is what America is about— resilience through diversity.”
Saleh immigrated to New York from Yemen in the early 1980s. He attended college, later changing his name from Yehya, meaning “long-lived”, to Steven. Saleh lives in Ballard with his family.
Kirk and Lappin could not be reached for comment.
By CHRIS MILLER, Contributing Writer
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/14/mar-14-2007-entire-issue