Police Raid at Eden Center Incites Fear, Resentment
By Jackie Bong Wright
Frank Huy Do, standing in handcuffs at center stage under dimmed lights at V3 restaurant inside the Vietnamese Eden Shopping Center, re-enacted being handcuffed by the Falls Church police a week before on September 1. He introduced himself as an Executive at New York Life insurance, a father and a churchgoer. “I was handcuffed and driven around for over an hour, from eleven until past midnight, then put in the Arlington County jail, not knowing what I’d done wrong. The police even refused to let me call my lawyer.”
“I was charged for appearing drunk in public, although witnesses inside the Café Metro, where I was, had videotaped the scene and claimed the contrary. The police said that they banned me from going to the Eden for two years. Fortunately, Due Tran, my lawyer, called around looking for me, and finally, was able to get me out of jail that night for lack of proof. Later, Alan Frank, a partner of Eden Center, lifted the ban for all the Eden “troublemakers.”
As Vice President of the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce-DC (VACOC-DC), Do and his board members that afternoon had gone around to all 120 of the stores at Eden Center and distributed flyers inviting the owners to an event on Sept 8. It was to raise funds to assist the 19 people who had got citations for gambling violations after a massive raid conducted by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force on August 11.
The task force held a press conference the next day, and Chief Harry Reitz said that the Falls Church Police had confiscated over $1 million in cash, and 70 gambling devices, and that 19 “Dragon Family” gang members had been arrested. Several faced felony charges. The arrestees, however, men and women ranging in ages from their twenties to their sixties, appeared on stage after Do did, and said that the police had got it wrong. “Do we look like gang members and criminals?” They said that none of them had a criminal record, and appealed to the community for justice.
The Task Force Executive Director, Ray Colgan, speaking at the press conference on August 12, said that “all the intelligence we had” pointed to Asian gang activity, and that felony arrests would be forthcoming. Chief Reitz’ briefing was covered widely by the media, including CNN, Channel 9, Fox News, The Washington Post, local newspapers and the internet. Reports were that the stores at Eden Center were venues for gambling, assaults, and extortion by gangs.
Hoang Tho, a barber at Eden since 1984, said that everybody was sad and upset seeing television images of “Gang at Eden Center” with the flag of South Vietnam in the background. Another restaurant owner of 20 years, Mindy Trang, said that she had never heard of any gangs. Hung Bui, owner of Café Metro, said that one particular officer had the habit of walking in, shining a flashlight in his customers’ eyes, and repeatedly ticketing him for “drinking on duty.” He said his eyes appeared glassy because of an eye disorder, not because he was drunk as the police alleged.
As a result of the negative media reports, businesses that had been booming had suffered a visible decline, according to Gene Binh Nguyen, owner of V3 and VACOC-DC president. Fear and mistrust of the police ran high among the store owners. He and Loc Huynh, the Vice-president, as well as ten board members, met with the Falls Church City Council and proposed that Falls Church City establish a “drug free zone” at the Eden Center and a community crime watch program. They also called for both city and police to create liaison officers with shop owners.
Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh, and Vice-Mayor David Snyder, welcomed these proposals and pledged to work to “ensure a safe and prosperous environment at the Eden Center.”
Due Tran, the VACOC-DC’s consultant and attorney, strongly denounced the police action. He called for an end to harassment, intimidation , abuse of power, confiscations and police overkill as well as a stop to arrests without search warrants. “If these crimes have existed for a long time, as the police claim, then there is either “failed policing or worse, racism.”
The fund-raising event took in $17,000 within two hours after Delegate Mark Keam decried the improper procedures used by the police. He said he would introduce a bill at the Virginia National Assembly requiring the police to read suspects their Miranda rights in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese, he declared, are also American citizens whose rights should be respected. He exhorted people to register to vote and work together to show their strength, and press for their rights.
During the trial of the first six “gang defendants” at the Falls Church General District Court on September 14, the VACOC-DC and the defendants’ friends demonstrated in front of City Hall, asking for a fair trial. They held banners that read, “Fight for the Right Fight,” “Change for a Better Tomorrow,” “Race is not a Color,” and “Equality for All.” Frank Huy Do held the sign “Respect is Earned, not Endowed.”
Cuong Cao, an 18-wheel driver, told SBTN-TV that he had been arrested while drinking coffee and eating fruit in a Café. His daughter, who had come to take him home, was also arrested. Another customer, Ta Van Loc, also said that he was drinking coffee when the police raided and forced him to sign a citation. They even took $280 of his grocery money, without giving him a receipt, he said.
The judge fined the owner of Café Dang $75 for keeping in his store firecrackers that were left over from the previous Lunar New Year. He and the five other defendants were found not guilty of any other violations. Gambling charges against them were dismissed for lack of evidence.
The Vietnamese community now awaits the trial of the next group of “gang defendants” on October 3, with great interest.