As a restaurant owner in Chinatown, Peter Kho is always a little bit anxious. He worries about crime, especially when he closes the Jacky Café at 3 a.m.

“Almost every day I see young men riding bikes, take our menu outside and fly it through the air,” Kho said, adding that “many times, some people order food, finish the whole plate and they don’t want to pay.”

Kho, who immigrated from China 25 years ago, says his concerns are greater because he doesn’t trust the Washington, D.C. law enforcement will help him.

Many Chinese immigrants share the same concern. They say that they will be targeted for crime because of their limited English proficiency, while others say that they have trouble communicating with police.

This isn’t supposed to be a problem as Chinatown residents can request the police to call an interpreter from the Asian Liaison Unit. The unit is under Washington D.C. police department. But, Kho said, many times the police didn’t follow the procedure.

“I brought this issue in a meeting with the chief police, who was saying that ‘if you have problems, call the officer to come and make the customer pay. The police can call it small crime’,” Kho said. “But some officers don’t do that.”

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As a restaurant owner in Chinatown, Peter Kho is always a little bit anxious. He worries about crime in the area. Many Chinese immigrants share the same concern. They say that they will be targeted for crime because of their limited English proficiency. Photo by Mellie Cynthia.

Officer William Lee, who often accompanies Chinese immigrant victims when they report crimes, said that an interpreter can make a difference between a successful prosecution and a disappointing resolution.

“If you don’t speak English and you don’t get an interpreter to help you with the case, what do you think is going to happen ?” said Lee. The problem was compounded by the fact that because of the language barrier, many of the Chinese immigrants don’t even know how to call 911.

According to police department statistics, Chinatown is one of the higher-crime areas in Washington. In 2014, there were approximately 850 crimes reported in the area, with most of the crime were theft (537) and robbery excluding gun (52). The numbers have not significantly declined, say police.

Some victims worry that their crimes are never solved in part due to the language barrier.

Lee Xiao, 55, works by herself in a tiny room in front of a parking lot on H street. About four years ago, three men forced her to hand over the cash in a drawer, pointing a gun near her head.

“They pushed my head down and asked me to give the money,” Xiao said. “I gave them the money, so they wouldn’t hurt me.”

By the time police arrived, the men were long gone.

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Officer William Lee, who often accompanies Chinese immigrant victims when they report crimes, said that an interpreter can make a difference between a successful prosecution and a disappointing resolution. Photo by Mellie Cynthia

The notorious crime rate in the area has also made some Chinese immigrants moved away from the city. One of them is Jianling Chen, 38, a manager at Tony Cheng, one of the oldest restaurants in Chinatown. He and his wife had been robbed three times when going home from the restaurant to their house nearby. Finally, they decided to move to Virginia.

“I used to live on K street. I street and K street. Those are not safe. And, you have to avoid small and dark alleys,” Chen said.

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Richard Chiang, 43, said that the city used to have more officers who periodically patrol different neighborhoods in Chinatown. “That’s helpful even when the police officers only hang around that corner and we might not have any issue. But, when we do have issues, you know the police officer. That makes us feel more secure.” Photo by Mellie Cynthia.

Some think that the solution to reduce crime towards Chinese immigrants is to have more officers walking the beat in the neighborhood. A former D.C’s Mayor Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Commissioner Richard Chiang, 43 said that the city used to have more officers who periodically patrol different neighborhoods in Chinatown.

“That’s helpful even when the police officers only hang around that corner and we might not have any issue. But, when we do have issues, you know the police officer. That makes us feel more secure,” Chiang, who is also the owner of a herbal and grocery store at H street said.

Meantime, residents like Xiao say they don’t feel secure.

“Too many times, I have experienced so many robberies. I never feel safe,” she said, shaking her head.

Featured image by Creative Commons.

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