After Another Chinatown Robbery, Will Oakland Chief Change His Tune On Armed Citizens?

Rich Pedroncelli

Earlier this year, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong declared that he wanted “good witnesses” to violent crime, while decrying the idea of people lawfully carrying firearms in self-defense or for the defense of others. Armstrong’s criticism came after an Oakland shopkeeper stopped an assault on the street outside of his store by firing a shot at the attacker, only to end up arrested himself.

Armstrong made it clear that he is no fan of residents arming themselves for self-defense, even with a huge uptick in the number of robberies and assaults reported in the community. In his press briefing, the chief declared, “We don’t want our business owners or others to begin to arm themselves. We would really prefer them to be good witnesses.”

According to Armstrong, if you witness a woman being beaten and robbed outside of your store, you’re not supposed to intervene to stop the attack. Instead, you’re supposed to simply sit back and watch so you can tell police all about it after the fact.

“What we really don’t want to do is bring any additional issues that threaten safety into the equation,” Armstrong continued. “Having armed people out there tends to not be helpful. Officers sometimes have to determine who they’re trying to encounter and that also makes it unsafe for all of us. So while I appreciate those who have stepped forward and are looking to help our community members and be there and intervene, I think you can do that with your voices, you can do that with making phone calls to the OPD, but allowing us to come in and respond.”

I suppose it’s time for Armstrong to hold another press conference; this time to warn residents that you shouldn’t try to help protect crime victims regardless of whether you’re armed or not. Over the weekend a Good Samaritan in Oakland was shot after coming to the aid of two couples who were being robbed in broad daylight in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

“They pulled their shirts up and showed they have guns under their pants,” says one man in the group who only wants to be identified as Mr. Chan for privacy.

The suspects grab the two women’s handbags and Mr. Chan springs into action, grappling to get his girlfriend’s purse back. He is pistol-whipped in the process.

A Good Samaritan who happened to be walking nearby sprang into action shortly after he heard the women screaming. You can see him fall to the ground as he is shot in the left armpit and right thigh. He tells ABC7 News that he is recovering in the hospital and hopes to be out by Monday evening.

While the suspects quickly sped off and have not yet been arrested, Mr. Chan and his friends, have this warning given recent attacks in Oakland’s Chinatown.

“I don’t regret what I did (but) I don’t recommend if this happened to other people to get involved in that way you don’t know who brought guns or if they have knives.”

To be fair, both Chan and the Good Samaritan had to have some idea that the robbers were armed. Chan says the suspects displayed guns before they snatched the purses belonging to the two women, and it sounds like the stranger who intervened did so while Chan was being pistol-whipped. Still, I think it’s human nature to want to step in and help others when we see that they’re in danger, and I can’t fault either man for trying to stand up to violent criminals.

“I could not believe it because, at that time — I believe it’s 2 p.m. — it must have hundreds of people!” Chinatown resident and property owner Barry Szeto exclaimed.

Szeto has watched his community devolve into a place of fear. He says the streets seem emptier now with many afraid to venture out.

Some will say more police are needed but, after former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer was mugged two weeks ago at nearby Jack London Square, police stepped up their presence in Chinatown. Saturday’s shooting happened when there were already more cops in the area than usual.

“You’d think that wouldn’t happen. No one would be stupid enough to do it in front of the cops,” Szeto said. “There’s no law and order. We’re going back to the wild, wild, west.”

Diane Trinh owns a business near the shooting site and thinks violent crime is scaring people away from Chinatown. She admits she has no idea how to stop it.

I have an idea: let people defend themselves.

The problem is the vast majority of Oakland residents are disarmed in public thanks to Alameda County’s policy of not recognizing self-defense as a valid reason to obtain a concealed carry license. Clearly the policy isn’t doing much to prevent robbers from using guns in the commission of their violent crimes, but sadly the law is more effective at stopping responsible citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

I don’t really expect Chief Armstrong to change his tune about wanting good witnesses instead of armed citizens, but the residents of Oakland, Chinatown included, would be a lot better off if he did.