Crime & Justice

Self-defense patrol forms in Oakland’s Chinatown amid crime wave

By Marc Arcas

Oakland, California, Feb 22 (efe-epa).- Thefts, armed robberies and inexplicable attacks on elderly people are a cause of growing concern in Chinese immigrant neighborhoods across the United States and have led some residents of this Northern California city to form foot patrols to protect local business owners.

In the Oakland Chinatown, an area hard hit by this type of violence, a score of young people who call themselves “Asians with Attitudes” walk the streets of that neighborhood nearly every day, talking with shopkeepers and looking for signs of criminal activity.

Wearing black T-shirts and masks with the group’s logo, the group of youths are led by the burly Jimmy Bounpheng, who stands out from the crowd with his baggy clothing, backward-facing baseball cap and large gold necklace.

In remarks to Efe, members of that group said they are having success in deterring crime without carrying firearms.

“We’re here, just want you to know,” Bounpheng told a female owner of a store that sells items ranging from sports shoes to kitchen utensils.

“Thank you. Thank you guys,” she said while waving to the members of the patrol. In response to a question from Efe, she said she feels safer since the Asians with Attitudes group started patrolling the area.

Videos have appeared on the Internet since the start of the pandemic – and particularly during the first couple of months of 2021 – showing violent attacks on elderly individuals with Asian facial features.

Money and possessions were stolen in some cases, although in others there was no apparent motive apart from causing physical harm.

Two incidents have caused particular outrage: one assault on 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who died after being brutally attacked in San Francisco by 19-year-old Antoine Watson; and another that targeted a 91-year-old man who was pushed from behind and knocked to the ground in broad daylight in Oakland’s Chinatown.

“In the last couple of weeks, there’s been over a dozen attacks on elderly,” Leanna Louie, a US Army veteran and co-founder of United Peace Collaborative, a group of volunteers who protect the well-being and safety of San Francisco Chinatown’s residents and merchants, told Efe.

“I don’t think this is anything new. I mean attacks on Asian-Americans (date back to) the 1880s (with the) the (Chinese) Exclusion Act of 1882 … We’ve always been blamed to be the ones taking jobs from other people. But this is not true. We’re willing to do jobs that most other people are not willing to do,” Louie said.

Although the problem is long-standing, it has recently grown worse and also seemingly acquired a particular racial overtone given that most of the perpetrators of violence targeting elderly Asians have been young African-American men.

After a year of heightened racial tensions stemming from the death of an African-American man – George Floyd – at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many people in the Asian community now feel they are becoming targets of a rarely discussed racial animus.

However, social justice and Black Lives Matter activists are trying to intervene and prevent conflicts from erupting among two racial minorities that, in their view, should be able to find common ground.

“I’m here to stand with the Asian community against the violence and to support them and let them know not everyone has this type of hatred and ill will towards their community,” Carolyn Ransom-Scott, a religious African-American woman who has been lending her services to the Asians with Attitudes foot patrol in Oakland’s Chinatown.

These patrols have been well received by shop owners and the community as a whole but are viewed with suspicion by Oakland’s police force, particularly in the wake of last week’s arrest of a Chinatown store owner who fired several gunshots in a bid to stop a robbery.

No one was injured in that incident, in which the thief made off with a woman’s camera.

Afterward, the city’s police chief, LeRonne Armstrong, cautioned people against taking the law into their own hands, citing the risk of “unintended victims.”

Attacks on persons of Asian descent have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. The Stop AAPI Hate campaign, which documents cases of racial violence against Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, received 2,808 complaints of anti-Asian hate nationwide between March and December of last year.

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