“About a year later some Lao gang members, they did a drive-by shooting where a 15-year-old girl was shot and killed. She was sitting in the back seat of the car, and it was just a bullet, a stray bullet that went through the car. Hit her in the back of the head. She was from Long Beach also.
“You have never had such a mobile group of kids as you do with Southeast Asian kids. You could be talking to ’em in the daytime here, and then eight hours later they’re in San Francisco or they’re in Long Beach or they’re in Fresno or they’re in Las Vegas. Or they’re in Texas. So they’re very, very mobile.
“A couple of years back, I stopped a 13-year-old girl, and she was a runaway from San Diego. She’d come back to San Diego, but in the course of a year, she had gang pictures from Florida, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Michigan. And this was a 13-year-old girl. There’s kind of like a built-in circuit, and they make the rounds. We get gang members that come in from Boston to San Diego for a week. If they commit a crime, they’re back in Boston. It’s so difficult to solve these crimes.
“You’ve gotta remember, for Southeast Asian gangs this.is new. This is something that’s only been around for 13, 14 years, at the most. In San Diego they weren’t fully fledged gang members till 6 or 7 years ago, when they actually became a gang under the attorney general’s guidelines, which say you have got to have two or more members who associate on a regular basis, who claim an area, who are engaged in criminal activity. And that they claim to be a gang.
“We’re starting to see kids as young as 10 years old, up to the early 20s, saying that they’re Oriental Killer Boys or Oriental Boy Soldiers. It’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen next. We don’t have a history to go by like we do with the other, more traditional gangs.”
Are we talking about real crime or kid stuff?
“Crime,” Roy Moody says, and gets specific. “Mainly, for Lao and Cambodian, it’s auto thefts. Their bread and butter. They love their Honda Preludes and Toyota Supras. Back when I was in patrol, almost once a week I was arresting ’em for stolen cars. Kids.
“Stolen car parts. Stereos. With the Vietnamese you can get into more of an organized-crime-type aspect. [Other Asian gangs] haven’t really reached [the level] of organized crime as we know it. They’re between street gangs and organized crime.
“In Southeast Division, there used to be a Lao pool hall. And we heard stories about older Vietnamese males going into the pool hall there, saying, ‘I need a....’ — placing their order. And the first one that gets it gets two or three hundred dollars. And so there’s definitely a correlation between....”
He doesn’t say the words “gangs,” “auto theft,” and “Asian fix-it shops.” He’s a cop used to talking to people and the press.
“And then from a period of 1989 to 1992, Southeast Asian gang membership grew at least 300 to 400 percent. Tremendous growth.”
“Unfortunately I’m not allowed to give out those numbers. But it’s tremendous. Just to give you an example, and I won’t identify which group, but one group of Southeast Asians have 100-something kids, just a little over 100-something kids. Two are in college. Their gang membership is over 200 citywide.
“It’s real popular to say these kids are gang members so they must come from dysfunctional families. But a lot of these kids come from very, very good families. And some of these families are very well educated. I think it’s a combination of a lack of communication on the parents’ part, maybe because they don’t speak English too well, and geography. Where these kids grew up. One of the things that we see is that geography plays a very important role.
“If these kids grew up where gang members are, there’s a better chance of them becoming gang members. But not all the kids that grew up in those particular neighborhoods became gang members. So there’s other reasons for it.”
Bounhong Khommarath agrees about the gang kids’ favorite crime. “Auto theft is their number one. They say that Toyota is a lot easier to get in, so any sport-looking Toyota and late model, that’s their preference. For joy riding, they just take any car that is available [until] there’s no gas. They just use the vehicle as an escape tool.”
Bounhong Khommarath is project director, UPAC, the Union of Pan Asian Communities, Pan Asian Youth Project. UPAC is a storefront office started in 1973, and the youth project started in 1991. He counsels Cambodian and Lao kids and thinks up ways to keep them out of gangs.
Bounhong Khommarath continues the list of the favorite crimes of Lao and Cambodian gangs. “Then the next, would be home burglary. They keep on watching almost a week before they break in. The other type of break-in — let’s say that I have a kid that’s acting up. And he knows your son, your daughter, that’s also gangs. And then they rob their own parents when the parents not home. But this one is kind of minimal.
“The armed robbery. The kids from Orange County come in here and know a couple of gang kids in here that used to run away, and they associate, and they just go over and rip an armed robbery, but this is less number.
“For the home burglary, burglary, armed robbery, these, they target their own people. Their own Asian people. Especially the family that’s on welfare. They know that the family do not keep the money in the bank, they’re just hiding it at home. And if they’re on welfare, they tend not to report to the authorities.”
Where are the middle-class Asians?
“That probably be the Filipinos and Vietnamese. For the Vietnamese, they’re the ones that came in here in 1975, ’76, ’77. Those are the ones that are the elite group that escaped right at the fall. So we could see here lots of physicians, store owners. Residential areas would be in the Rancho Penasquitos, those areas. The lower ones, the late arrivals, the new arrivals here tend to live in the lower socioeconomic areas mixed with the other so-called poor.”