Protect Chinatown

by Rev. Norman Fong

July 29, 2019

norman fong

As a Chinatown kid, I loved hanging out with my friends in Chinatown. But I had to go to junior high in North Beach. As I was walking to my new school, a small gang of Italian teenagers decided to pick on me. They grabbed me and tied me to a fence then threw water balloons at me. Later I found out that those group of teenagers were called the DAC’S (Damn all Chinamen). They picked on my friends and I a few more times so we had to learn how to defend ourselves. To this day, I still can picture those teenagers that attacked me. It changed my life in so many different ways. When I hear about the recent violence in Chinatown, those feelings come back to me. After I got beat up, I remember feeling anger, rage, and sadness that there’s so much hate in the world! Especially when seniors are being attacked today. I remember crying and screaming at my Mom that I hate Italians. My Mom was very religious so she calmly said to me, “Not all Italians are that bad. Did you know our landlord was Italian? And he only charges us $90 a month for rent. Norman, remember life is about balance.”

I remember feeling the same way back in the 1980s when the youth I worked with at Cameron House got assaulted with a fish hook on the bus on their way back to Chinatown. I told them we need to report it to the police and so I went with them to the police station. After reporting, I said, “So what’s going to happen next?” The police officers said, “It happens so much in the area that most likely, we won’t find them.” I got angry again. I decided to go to my friends who were Asian cops. My friends said, “Which bus line did it take place? And would your youth come along to ride with us to identify their attacker?” So we jumped on the same bus line at the same time when they were attacked and the youth saw his attacker RIGHT AWAY in the back of the bus! The police officers arrested him. I was frustrated because I think a lot of people get robbed or assaulted and if they don’t have a friend as a cop or a bilingual officer to take their report, they are less likely to report it since they don’t believe anyone will follow through like in my case, where I had to ask my friends who were cops to help.

My friend Yvonne Lee once started a Chinatown reporting office at Chinese American Citizens Alliance. Monolingual residents of Chinatown could just simply walk in to get help reporting on crimes whether small or big. Sometimes people need help to understand HOW to make a police report. Everyone outside was saying to us, “Chinatown is safe. We have a very low rate of crimes reported.” At that time there were very few bilingual police officers at Central Station that could help our residents. Maybe we need a community/police reporting office RIGHT IN THE COMMUNITY again.

In the past 25 years, I remember many seniors getting robbed of their necklaces and most of those crimes probably were not reported. It even happened to my mother-in-law. I remember telling so many seniors to not wear their jade necklaces or gold jewelry or to hide them under their clothes. I don’t know how we got to a place in society where picking on seniors is okay…

And I’ll never forget the year 2010 when our seniors were picked on just for “fun” in the Bayview or Visitation valley. I remember having to do a funeral service on Third Street in the Bayview because an 89-year old Chinese man was killed and a Chinese woman was pushed off a Third Street light rail platform. We joined together with Oakland Chinatown too because there were young kids there just punching people in Chinatown to see if they could just knock them out.

There are a lot of misunderstandings between people of different cultures. The Chinese are sometimes thought of as being the rich model minority which creates deep resentments towards our community by other people of color. What can we do? One time, my friend in Potrero Hill asked me to do a Chinatown Tour for these tough looking Black teenagers as a favor for him. (He used to work at Chinatown CDC). He wanted me to show them Chinatown and how we have poverty here too! I remember showing them an SRO (single room occupancy) building where all the seniors there had to share common bathrooms and kitchens. The Biggest Teenager said out loud “I didn’t know Chinatown had it so bad… at least in the Projects where I live, I have my own toilet!” I bet those teens will never rob a Chinese senior ever because now they understand what we are all going through together. Poverty creates a lot of prejudice.

cta community tenants association

cta community tenants association

cta community tenants association

SO, WHAT CAN WE DO? I asked the Community Tenants Association (CTA) for concrete ideas on what the community and city should do in this time of blatant violence against seniors in Chinatown. CTA’s leadership meets every Wednesday and they've held a Monthly Townhall in Chinatown for over 20 years now. They discussed the issue and recommended the following:

1. MORE FOOT PATROL: on busy corridors (Stockton from Columbus to Sacramento; Grant Ave from Broadway to Bush) during the daytime 11am – 3pm with Police not in uniforms.

2. POLICE PRESENCE AT BIG COMMUNITY EVENTS: create a line of communication with Central Station requesting police patrol or presence when there's a convening of more than 100 residents. For example, at CTA’s action group and Super Sunday we usually have between 200-400 residents attending the events. Majority are seniors and are currently in constant fear of getting robbed or beaten up. Once traumatized, seniors are less likely to remain active in the community. With the event being open to public, seniors are concerned of perpetrators entering the premise and committing crimes against them.

3. NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: establish a neighborhood watch program between merchants and family associations to patrol the corridors of Chinatown; perhaps with a basic self-defense training program taught by officers.

4. YOUTH PROGRAMS: with the demographic at Ping Yuen, create youth programs for younger residents with focus on employment training.

5. HIGHER PROSECUTION RATE: it’s often the same perpetrators committing crimes on the streets of Chinatown, even after they are arrested, since they are often released quickly. There needs to be higher prosecution of these crimes committed to deter further crimes by these individuals. Or a Long-term Treatment Program…

prosecution rate long term treatment program

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chinatown san francisco


Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 28, 2019

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