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Chinese Immigrants Vulnerable to Violence PDF Print E-mail
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.

And no police were called ever.

Walking home the night of Dec. 12, the 47-year-old Chinese immigrant took a different route to his apartment building just north of Chinatown, avoiding the spots his fellow Chinese immigrants said were dangerous.

Candlelight March to be Held in Remembrance of Mr. Guo

candle.gif (714 bytes)A candlelight march in remembrance of Zhen Lin Guo will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 6, 2000 in downtown Washington, D.C.  It will begin at 1301 7th Street, NW (between N and O) and proceed around Gibson Plaza, and will be followed at 8 p.m. by a meeting in the building basement on building security and an update on the investigation into Guo's robbery and murder.

As some of you know, Mr. Zhen Liu Guo was robbed and killed on Dec. 11, 1999 outside of Gibson Plaza, a public housing unit where about 40 Chinese-speaking families live. Greg Chen, the Mayor's Assistant for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs arranged for a community meeting on Dec. 16, 1999 where police, tenants, the U.S. Attorney's office, and building management discussed the tragedy and other public safety concerns associated with the building.

At the meeting which was attended by over 100 people, we discovered that:

  • Chinese Americans and African-Americans who live in the building shared  the same frustrations with crime, police neglect and poor building  management.
  • Four days passed before the police contacted Mr. Guo's family and they had not canvasssed the building to interview possible witnesses.
  • Security cameras were often not in working order, including the night
    of the shooting
  • After a lot of persuasion, several Chinese-speaking residents related other crimes committed against them but were not reported to the police.  They cited no confidence in the police and fear of retaliation as two major factors for not reporting the crimes.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the police and building management explained what they were doing to address the tragedy and prevent another occurrence.  They were supposed to post the measures (increasing lighting around the building, posting the names of the PSAs responsible for the building, assigning a Chinese speaking police officer to the case, hiring a part-time building worker who speaks Chinese, etc.) both in English and Chinese at Gibson Plaza.

The purpose of the candlelight march is to show support for the Guo family, keep public attention on Mr. Guo's case, encourage cooperation between the Chinese-speaking families and the African-Americans who live in the building and send a message to the criminals that residents are no longer going to be silent when victimized.  Flyers about the march will be distributed to all the residents.

The community meeting after the candlelight march will give the police and building management an opportunity to update us 3 weeks after the shooting.

The U.S. Attorney's office will also be there to educate the Chinese American residents and other residents about the importance of reporting crimes and assistance available under the victim compensation plan.  As of this  writing, no arrest has been made on the Guo case.  But, Asst. Chief McManus assigned Officer Wen Ai to assist Det. Pat Pae who is handling the case.

Those wishing to send letters of condolences should send them to Ms. Xiu Weng, 1301 7th Street, NW, #715, Washington, DC 20001.

-- Francey Lim Youngberg
Access to Justice Partnership
(703) 660-9166

He was safe until 9 p.m., when he arrived at the back door of 1301 Seventh St. NW, a 10-story box of apartments drawing Chinese immigrants who want low rents and proximity to their jobs in Chinatown. Just outside the entrance to his home, in the dimly lit parking lot and out of range of a security camera that functioned sporadically, Guo was shot three times and killed for his wallet.


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."

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+1 #3 Valinda Bolton 2012-11-19 10:09
The takeouts are sometimes the only stores open at night on certain blocks, and can become hangouts or targets.

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-6 #2 JaidynF 2010-11-29 06:35
The UC "University of California tuition hike surges an additional eight percent" Board of Regents has decided that University of CA pupils aren't paying enough for their higher education. According to the Associated Press, a plan was approved today that will raise student educational costs by eight percent in fall 2011. Financial aid offerings can be expanded to help compensate for the instant cash outlay.
+5 #1 2010-11-01 01:22
so sad, I wish the Guo family better. We need to stand up and not back down!

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