Activists claim a “crime wave” against Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia that has drawn national attention is continuing despite a large protest by the city’s Asian American community in mid-October.
“So far not much is being done by the police,” said Wei Chen, a civic engagement coordinator for Asian Americans United (AAU), a nonprofit community group. “The Philadelphia Police have to come up with a plan, a strategy to help the restaurant owners.”
Community sources say the recent crimes, which appear to target Chinese Americans, include robberies and youths (four of whom have been arrested) harassing local restaurants, although no new home invasions have been reported. The Philadelphia Police website confirms that several robberies involving Chinese restaurants have taken place in the city since October.
“These incidents will continue indefinitely unless we change the macro-environment of gun violence, drugs and unemployment,” said Lindy Li, a former Democratic Congressional candidate who testified recently at a public hearing on behalf of the robbery victims.
The latest cases follow two arrests in August in what Li and others say is a prolonged crime spree directed against Chinese restaurants in the northeast, northwest and southwest parts of Philadelphia.
Two suspects, Anthony Campbell and Norman Bowen, were booked on August 12 for multiple home invasions and robberies in northwest and southwest Philadelphia. The police department website says their alleged crimes fit the pattern of 11 “home invasions of Asian-owned businesses between May 3, 2016, and August 1, 2016” in these sections of the city.
“We are trying to get people to show up in court for these two arrest cases,” Chen added.
Community leaders say more than 100 Chinese restaurants or takeout stores in the city have been targeted by armed gangs in the last year. Some business owners have been brutally beaten and over a dozen families are said to have been the victims of home invasions.
The Philadelphia Police Department is still responding to an Asia Times request for more information on recent crimes against Chinese businesses in Philadelphia.
Rap song blamed
Many Asians tie the attacks to a song by the hip hop artist YG called Meet the Flockers. Its lyrics advocate robberies against the homes of Chinese people living in the US. The two-year-old tune has been criticized as a crime blueprint.
An October 15 rally in Philadelphia attended by over 700 Asian Americans and some African Americans in downtown Philadelphia was timed to coincide with a concert in the city by YG. The demonstrators were demanding more police protection.
“The protest is not so much against YG as it is his song,” Chen said. “Government agencies should take responsibility to stop this kind of culture that promotes violence, particularly when it promotes violence against one particular ethnic group — in this case Chinese Americans.”
Chen says the children of some restaurant-owning families have been assaulted during robberies because they were believed to be carrying cash. “They were grabbed by the hair and bumped into the wall. They were traumatized,” Chen said.
Chinese restaurant owners in Philadelphia continue to hold meetings to address the issue.
“The only thing they want to do is survive. They just want a safe environment where they can do business,” Chen said.
Doug Tsuruoka is Asia Times’ Editor-at-Large