Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Notes — Chinatown And The News

History Of Chinatown Gangs

SAN FRANCISCO— Longtime city residents woke up Wednesday morning with a sense of deja vu.  The FBI arrested “Shrimp Boy,” a person of intense interest in the as yet unsolved murder of dragonhead, Allen Leung, who was the leader of two Chinatown “social clubs" (tongs). Leung had previously killed an intruder — a likely assassin — but a second attempt on Leung succeeded.

Police speculated — they had to speculate, no one in Chinatown was talking — that it was because Leung refused to yiel to blackmail by competing interests or because he was vehemently opposed to the Chinese communist party’s inroads into the community. Raymond “Shrimp Boy Chow” was implicated by police in the blackmail scenario. That view might have been reinforced when the suspect assumed the victim’s position as dragonhead in the Hop Sing tong.

A Young Raymond "Shrimpboy" Chow
Chow’s history is colorful.  At 16, in Hong Kong, he and 30 subordinates purportedly ran collection for gambling dens. Once in the U.S. he was alleged to have been a gang leader in Oakland, a gang that specialized in home invasions. He survived the infamous Chinatown restaurant slaughter, “The Golden Dragon Massacre” perpetrated by the “Joe Boys” in 1977. Chow was in and out of trouble until he was arrested and convicted of federal gun charges. Upon his release 23 years later, Chow maintained a highly visible presence in Chinatown, but claimed to have rehabilitated himself.  The FBI, it appears, thought otherwise and never lost interest in the man — hence his arrest on a slew of charges this week.

On Wednesday, The FBI, having infiltrated Raymond Chow’s organization, performed a series of raids connected to gun trafficking, heroin, money laundering, influence peddling and prostitution. Caught up in the raid that netted Chow was prominent San Francisco politician Leland Yee. Yee had been a viable mayoral candidate, city supervisor and state senator. Yee was reportedly raising funds for a run at the California’s Secretary of State’s office.

San Francisco's Chinatown   (photo by Tierney)
This is just one of many noirish stories with a Chinatown setting, this one bubbling back to the surface because of current events.  For more, the long and fascinating history of crime in Chinatown was meticulously captured in the 2008 book, Chinatown Squad — Policing the Dragon: From the Gold Rush to the 21st Century by Kevin J. Mullen. However, these recent developments suggest a need for a new chapter.

Note: San Francisco’s official Chinatown is second to New York ‘s in U.S. population and probably first in terms of visitors. The main street for tourists is Grant Avenue.  For residents, it is Stockton.  The official Chinatown occupies an area between Union Square and North Beach.  There are, however, newer, tourist-free “Chinatowns,” here.  Clement Street offers an abundance of great Chinese and other Asian restaurants, markets and shops.  So does Irving Street, on the other side of Golden Gate Park. But only the original, the official Chinatown will make you think of Dashiell Hammett.

1 comment:

Teri-on-the-sandbar said...

a bit more gritty than my favorite musical, Flower Drum Song. And nowhere nearly as hummable.