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City announces plans to shut down all Seattle hookah lounges after murder in International District

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SEATTLE -- The city is coming down hard on hookah lounges after a popular International District man was killed near one.

Police are still looking for person or people responsible for killing community leader Donnie Chin. He was fatally shot close to the Kings Hookah Lounge in the 800 block of S. Lane Street last month.

Mayor Ed Murray says hookah lounges are not only violating smoking bans but they are a magnet for crime. On Monday, he announced a plan to shut down all 11 hookah lounges in Seattle.

“The culture has been going on for hundreds of years; it’s not like I created it,” said Nabil Mohammed, owner of the Medina Hookah Lounge.

Murray said, “There have been more than 100 fights and disturbances (since 2012) and, out of the 11 hookah establishments that we know exist in city limits, there have been shootings at four of them,” Murray said.

Three of the four shootings were homicides, including last month’s shooting of Chin.

“I would like to remember Donnie, the guardian angel of Chinatown and International District,” City Council member John Okamoto said.

Police say Chin died of gunshot wounds while he was in his car near Kings Hookah Lounge. Investigators aren’t saying whether Chin responded to a disturbance there but supporters of the ban say these lounges can attract trouble.

“There are other activities besides smoking hookah and shisha,” said Dr. Ahmed Ali, of the Somali Health Board, which is a coalition of individuals, Somali professionals, organizations, community leaders and social and health service providers.

“My hookah lounge hasn’t had any type of incidents in the last four years,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed added the city’s enforcement is unfair.

“A great person like Donnie Chin unfortunately lost his life and we are the fallback for it; that’s not right, that’s city politics,” Mohammed said.

“It’s an incredible personal disappointment, incredible frustration for me that the enforcement situation was allowed to atrophy,” Murray said.

The mayor added that although hookah lounges have been violating the indoor smoking ban for years, it is a complicated process to shut them down.

But with a new city law kicking in on Aug 16, it will be easier for the city to revoke the business licenses of establishments not following the city ordinance.

The city also pressed charges against Kings Hookah Lounge on Monday, accusing the business of not paying its taxes.