|Chinese Immigrants Vulnerable to Violence|
By Petula Dvorak
December 23, 1999
©1999 Washington Post
Zhen Liu Guo had heard the stories: A pistol in the face for $8. A bullet through a windshield. Pummelings in the dark corners of Sixth Street NW.
His 17-year-old daughter, Yun Shi Guo, looked out the window when she heard gunshots. Then, she saw her father and the blood. This time, the police were called.
And in investigating the still-unsolved slaying of Guo, one of dozens the 3rd District handles annually, police learned much about a community of immigrants vulnerable to crime and locked in silence about what is happening to them.
They are a small ethnic enclave of about 40 families in Shaw, those who couldn't find or afford housing in Chinatown but wanted to be near others who speak their language. In 1993, the Guo family was among the pioneer Chinese immigrants to move into the building, which is owned by the First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church NonProfit Housing Corp.
The building is government-insured, and about half its tenants qualify for government-funded housing under Section 8. A three-bedroom apartment goes for about $600, and rent is pegged to a family's income. Some tenants are the adult children of immigrants who have chosen not to move away from their insulated community.
The story of Guo's family is much like that of others in the building. He left China in 1981. His wife and daughter followed in1992. Gibson Plaza was affordable, and its small Chinese community was growing. Guo worked as a cook in a Union Station restaurant; his wife is a grocery clerk in Chinatown.
Guo was distinctly active in community affairs, frequently attending meetings, said Greg Chen, director of the Mayor's Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.
He was different from many of his neighbors in that respect.
"They don't want to get involved," said D.C. police officer Wen Ai, the Asian affairs liaison for the department, who heard accounts from half a dozen crime victims who refused to report the crimes.
Ai said many victims and witnesses in the Asian community don't want to burden police with their woes.
"I see it in my mom, not wanting to bother people. It makes me so mad," said Ai, who emigrated from Taiwan when he was 7 years old. "I have to tell her, 'Mom, speak up for yourself.' And I want those people in that building to speak up for themselves, too."
There are no statistics that can reflect crimes not being reported, though there is anecdotal evidence showing such a trend among Chinese immigrants, Chen said.
"The next morning after Mr. Guo was killed, people in that building told me some horrible, horrible stories about being robbed and mugged," Chen said.
Statistics from District police show that in the last 2 years, dispatchers received fewer than 300 calls asking for assistance in Asian languages. They received about 5,000 requests for Spanish-language assistance.
Chen said the District's Spanish-speaking population is about twice that of Asian-language speakers, so the numbers are vastly disproportionate.
After Guo was killed outside the Gibson Plaza apartments, Chen organized a community meeting. He wanted to verify his gut feeling that Guo's killing was a horrific example of a trend Guo privately had feared. At the meeting, Chen aimed to learn how many of Guo's neighbors have been victimized and why they avoid police.
"I only lost $8. I didn't think it was worth it to call police," said one man, who told the story of a holdup months ago but asked not to be identified.
"It's because we're Chinese," said one woman, afraid to be identified because she believes her brother was singled out for a recent holdup because of his race. She added that her brother refused to call police partly because the bandits were masked. "What good would it do if he didn't know what they looked like?" she said.
Some mentioned futility, seeing few reports result in arrests. Others candidly whispered fears of retaliation.
Police Capt. Barry Malkin said the silence is damaging.
"It doesn't help us," Malkin said. "In fact, it hurts us. It tells us nothing about the crime or the patterns of crime in the neighborhood. If we don't have an accurate picture of the neighborhood, we can't police it correctly."
The apartment building is two blocks from an area recently labeled by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as an open-air drug market. Francey Lim Youngberg, a lawyer who works with Access to Justice, said anyone can be a victim in such an area. But many of the Chinese immigrants there are particularly vulnerable, Youngberg said.
"Because of the language barrier, they are less likely to report crimes, and they make better victims in the eyes of criminals," she said. "Their work hours also make them targets. Many of them work in restaurants and are coming home late."
Non-Asian residents who attended the meeting complained that crime is nothing new. They've been ducking hoodlums in the neighborhood for years.
"These problems have been here for all of 27 years I've lived here," said Elizabeth Lightfoot, who raised four children in the building. She said outside lighting is poor and the surveillance camera works only occasionally.
H.R. Crawford, a former D.C. Council member and the building's manager, said the security camera was broken at the time of Guo's killing, though its scope of vision would have skirted the area where Guo was shot. He maintained that the area was well lighted.
Malkin disagreed, saying it was inadequate.
Crawford then promised to install high-density lighting and a reliable surveillance system. He also assured the Chinese families he will make all postings bilingual and will hire a bilingual office assistant.
Some residents said they were pleased that good may come of Guo's slaying.
Guo's family, however, fears he died for nothing.
His widow, Xiu Wen Guo, has spent most of the days since his death in despair, only slightly self-conscious about staying in her teddy-bear pajamas all day.
She couldn't bring herself to come to the meeting, huddling in their $500-a-month apartment with their 6-year-old son.
His daughter quietly watched the maelstrom her father's death had helped create.
"I don't think anything will change," she said. "There are big American teenagers outside every day that still scare me. I just miss my dad."Quote this article on your site