Asian Crime Victims Unite

Posted: September 18, 1992

The latest criminal scam in South Philadelphia's Asian-American community is one of the oldest in the book:

A well-dressed Asian man comes to the door. He says he's new in the neighborhood and needs directions. The victim, often Vietnamese or Korean, is sympathetic and invites the visitor inside.

"If you open the door, suddenly others force themselves in," said Chinh V. Dinh, president of the Vietnamese Catholic Community in South Philadelphia, describing the scheme.

"They tie up the victims, intimidate them, ransack the house and threaten to kill the victims if the robbery is reported to police."

It happens untold times in South Philadelphia and other neighborhoods where Asians have settled in recent years, Dinh complained last night at a community meeting at the Asian Social Service Center, Morris Street near 17th.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham was on hand to unveil her office's new Southeast Asian Victim / Witness Assistance Program. But her reply to Dinh and others was hardly encouraging.

The police, she said, are "absolutely incapable of investigating Asian crime."

Abraham said her assessment was not an indictment of the police department, but that she was simply taking account of some basic problems police face. Namely:

* Few Asian-Americans speak even adequate English.

* The police department has few people who speak Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong or Laotian.

* Asians generally are part of a society so closed they simply refuse to report crime. "They would rather accept the pain and suffering," one Asian- American man said last night.

* Asian-Americans have a cultural distrust of the police. According to Capt. Joseph O'Brien, of the 17th District, last night's meeting was the first time he'd met with members of South Philadelphia's Asian community.

The Victim / Witness Assistance Program is the city's first formal attempt to break through these barriers, according to Abraham.

Under the program, two Asian-Americans have been added to the DA's victim / witness service unit. The two - a South Vietnamese named Cau Le and a Cambodian named James Kiet - essentially will walk Asian-American crime victims and witnesses through an often arcane city judicial system.

The program, Abraham told the approximately 200 Asian-American businesspeople, community leaders and residents at the meeting, "will enhance your belonging and a sense of security in your new home."

Many of the community's concerns are as basic as any other city neighborhood's: fear of street crime and gangs, the prevalence of drugs, the need for more police protection. Yet Asian-American leaders said those concerns are compounded by the community's difficulty with the language and a basic distrust of police.

Abraham encouraged members of the audience to volunteer for a variety of city Asian-American programs, and to find candidates to join the police department.

But she acknowledged that Byzantine judicial policies, such as prison population caps and bail policies, would probably continue to confound many Asian-Americans.

The 1990 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report, in fact, said many Asian- Americans, upon seeing criminals back on the street after making bail, assume the criminals must have bribed the police.

Cau Le, a former Vietnamese Army colonel who said he served 13 years in prison following the fall of Saigon in 1975, said the distrust of police stems

from the Asians' experiences in their homeland. There, he said, the police were more apt to kill than protect.

"They can trust me, though," he said.

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