Oakland's Chinatown Business Owners Are Getting Armed

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

There’s been a sharp increase in violent crimes in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood, including brazen daylight robberies and attacks on innocent residents, and it looks like many business owners and residents in the area have had enough. This past weekend more than 1,000 people gathered near Chinatown to rally in support of the community, but others are choosing to take more concrete steps to ensure their own safety.

On Monday, a liquor store owner drew his gun and fired several shots in attempt to stop a robbery taking place right outside of his business.

“He always helps people chase the bad guy and that’s how he is,” said Barry Szeto. “He won’t just stand and do nothing when he sees things he will react.”

That’s how Szeto describes the owner of Chinatown’s Park Liquor store. Szeto says when the merchant saw a woman getting roughed up and robbed in front of his store and brought out his gun and intervened.

“He was able to fire four shots into the air to scare the bad guy,” said Szeto.

And that’s where the liquor store owner made a mistake. Firing into the air is a bad idea for several reasons. First, there’s the law of gravity. What goes up must come down, and four rounds fired into the air are going to land somewhere, possibly injuring someone who had nothing to do with the robbery.

Then there’s the law against discharging firearms in Oakland, which the liquor store owner violated. As a result, it was the store owner, not the robber, who ended up in handcuffs (See update below for more information).

“While we understand the community is concerned my message is we don’t want our business owners or others to begin to arm themselves,” said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.

Oakland’s new police chief says the department is doing all it can to address the spike in crime in Chinatown. He says police are responding quickly to 911 calls but worries adding more guns to the mix is a recipe for even more problems.

“When weapons are fired into our community there could be unintended victims,” said Armstrong. “People hit by gunfire and we want to avoid that as much as we can.”

With all due respect to the chief, the reason why people are arming themselves is because the city has allowed crime in Chinatown to grow out of control. Armstrong can talk all he wants about how the department is doing everything it can, but if that’s not enough what does he expect people to do?

Rather than impotently declare that people shouldn’t arm themselves, Armstrong would be better off dealing with the reality of the situation. People are going to get guns if they feel unsafe in their community, and the Oakland PD would be much better off by helping to educate these new gun owners on responsible gun handling rather than simply proclaim it’s a bad idea to exercise your right of to keep and bear arms.

“This is worse than a war zone in Afghanistan,” said Szeto.

Longtime Chinatown resident Szeto says citizens don’t know what else to do. Armed with mace and a baton himself he’s also helping patrol his neighborhood. He says something has to change.

“Here in this neighborhood you get attacked on a 24/7 basis, this is ridiculous,” said Szeto. “We cannot live under such circumstances every day. We’re not talking once in a while … every day.”

That’s the reality in Oakland’s Chinatown, whether Chief Armstrong wants to acknowledge it or not. In those circumstances, you can’t blame anyone for wanting a gun to protect themselves. Rather than bitterly clinging to the anti-gun attitudes so prevalent in the Bay Area, it’s time for Armstrong and Oakland officials to start promoting firearms training, not the disarming of law-abiding citizens seeking greater personal safety in an increasingly unsafe neighborhood.

***UPDATE***

Since posting the original story, I’ve heard from a local law enforcement officer in the Oakland area who, while wishing to remain anonymous, suggests that the store owner did not fire four rounds into the air, but instead shot at the robber because he believed that the victim’s life was in danger.

In fact, this anonymous officer says that he believes the arrest of the store owner was politically motivated, and that the officers on-scene did not want to charge the businessman, but were directed to do so by a higher-up in the Oakland Police Department. I’ve reached out to the Oakland PD for comment, and will update this story once again if and when I hear back from them.