Op-ed: Chinatown community seeing effects of crime and violence

Traffic drives down 10th Street in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Friday, July 22, 2022.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Less than a month ago, it happened to us. Like so many restaurants and shops in Philadelphia, my bakery in Chinatown was robbed. It was brazen; as my cashier was closing up, the robber rushed inside, grabbed the cash, and tried to flee. Amazingly, a customer jumped in, took the money back, and chased the robber out. Even though no money was lost, my cashier was traumatized and I feel like my bakery was violated. 

Incidents like these are deeply troubling in Chinatown and we’ve had to make drastic changes. Business owners now close early due to the fear of violence against customers, workers, and property. Many calls to 9-1-1 go without the dispatch of police. And when police do come, response times are often slow. An hour after the robbery, officers finally came but said they were certain the suspect would never be found.

In May, Philadelphia will likely know who its next mayor will be. Before city residents cast their vote, they must understand the cascading effect of violence and the sense of lawlessness that pervades our city. Crime is an existential threat to Philadelphia, and Chinatown is a battle zone.

The Chinatown community is seeing more insidious effects of crime and violence. While we have great respect and appreciation for the police who patrol our streets, business owners have lost confidence in the criminal investigation and prosecution process. Too often after calling police to report a crime, business owners have the perpetrator arrested, but quickly released. They typically return to the community only to inflict more violence. 

Making our lives more frustrating, hate crimes against Asians have skyrocketed since the pandemic. Little more than a year ago, four Asian high school students were targeted on the Broad Street Line. SEPTA police said the perpetrators called the victims racial slurs in a video of the attack. Four teenage girls were charged with ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault. The incident prompted hundreds to march from City Hall to the headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia. 

The Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia stands with small business owners like Jack Chen and A La Mousse Bakery. We demand greater accountability from all entities involved in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of violent offenders, so Chinatown and our city can thrive. Our police deserve the resources necessary to engage with our community and build mutual respect and trust. Additional foot patrols in our community, especially in the evening would be a tangible sign that the city is taking our concerns seriously. 

Realities like those facing Chinatown and much of our city are toxic to jobs, commerce, and growth. Those who should be visiting restaurants, museums and cultural attractions in Philadelphia are instead avoiding our city and taking their business elsewhere. It’s simple: people will not patronize businesses in areas where they don’t feel safe. Without the necessary security for workers and patrons, businesses like my restaurants and bakery cannot survive.  

The perception of Philadelphia as unsafe for residents, workers and visitors must change. We are on the precipice of a vicious cycle of fewer jobs, less opportunity, decreased tax revenues and more unemployment, more crime and more unmet needs for under-resourced neighborhoods and communities. 

Safe streets and communities are fundamental to job and economic growth. If the next mayor prioritizes reducing crime and violence, his or her administration will lay the groundwork for our city to flourish. The future of Chinatown businesses, others throughout the city, the hardworking men and women we employ – and their families – depends upon it.

Jack Chen, Owner, A La Mousse Bakery

Khine Zaw Arthur, Ph.D, CEO, Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia