(Assaulted: businesses face prejudice and race attacks. Photo: voice-online.co.uk)
Shop owners report persistent racial abuse and assaults, while slamming inadequate police response
British people love a good Chinese. There’s a takeaway in every community. But while members of this often reserved community toil to provide affordable meals, their businesses are coming under attack. And they are calling out for help from the people they serve to prevent racists targeting their way of life and destroying their livelihood.
The operator of a Chinese takeaway has spoken out against 13 years of race attacks on his family and his business. And the Chinese community are desparate for help following an increase in race hate violence against individuals and businesses.
Kwai Li, the chair of West Norfolk and District Chinese Association and an active campaigner for good community relations, says there is an unnoticed escalation of crimes against members of the Chinese community, often seen as detached from the experience of racism in Britain.
He said that contrary to the rosy picture painted by the only Home Affairs Committee report (1985) on Chinese in Britain, which said “Chinese don’t suffer from racism”, Chinese people have continued to be the targets of violent race crimes in the past two decades.
According to Min Quan, the Chinese branch of the Monitoring Group, Mr Li’s case is one of the 400 reported cases of attacks on Chinese people and businesses in the past five years. Ninety per cent of these attacks have been on Chinese takeaways and restaurants, and 10 per cent are against individuals in residential areas.
The owner of a Chinese takeaway, Mi-Gao Huang was murdered in Wigan last year. This underlines the seriousness of the problem and members of the community are demanding urgent action by the authorities.
Jabez Lam, organiser of rights group Min Quan, is currently working on 30 cases of racist attacks against Chinese people. He says there are similarities to the cases, as the attackers are predominantly white youths who use aggressive racist language and are repeat attackers.
Kwai Li, who runs a takeaway in Kings Lynn says he has been fighting against the odds as the attacks have increased. He says a group of teenaged youth, some of whom travelled from outside the area, have consistently visited his takeaway, shouting racial abuse such as ‘Chinkie’ and ‘Chinese bastards’ at him and his wife, smashing his windows, dropping fireworks through his door, putting dog excrement inside and firing a rifle at the shop.
The group grew bigger, as other teenagers joined in the attacks. “We are the soft targets,” Mr Li said. “They only target the minority shops such as the Asian and the Chinese shops.”
Not only has Mr Li seen the attacks on his own family shop increase in the past decade, he has also witnessed the growth of racism against the new Chinese workers moving into the area in the past few years.
Without language skills and social resources, these Chinese workers are left completely on their own to deal with the attacks. Mr Li said a group of them were attacked on their way home from work, while others had fire bombs thrown into their windows at night.
“With the race attacks, those Chinese workers felt vulnerable and have gradually moved out. Now there are around 600 Chinese in Kings Lynn, a real minority. We report the incidents to the police. Sometimes they don’t come; sometimes they are late. And when they come and chase off the attackers, the problem doesn’t go away,” Li said.
Since the family’s arrival in Kings Lynn, Mr Li has worked to promote understanding between communities. He sponsored six local football teams. “I have always tried to put something back into the community through the work I do. But the attacks over these years make you think if it’s still worthwhile to continue our life here,” he said.
“We tell ourselves that we must stay strong, for our livelihood,” he added. The latest attack occurred on May 6 when a gang of youth threw stones at the shop windows, leaving 60 cracks and forcing Mr Li finally to talk publicly about what happened. He says: “We live in fear, but there is still no arrest. We are so angry and we’re not prepared to suffer in silence anymore”.
He said he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of helplessness, and that has forced the police to begin to respond.
Detective Sergeant David Buckley, supervisor of the Hate Crime Unit, Norfolk Police, admitted that “the police response to the attacks on Li was largely reactive and more could have been done”.
“That’s why we’re taking action now,” he said.
Buckley said that the only two reported racial attacks in the area in the past year were on Kwai Li’s shop. Although he believes that other reported attacks can be classified as anti-social behaviour cases, he said Li’s shop was the most substantially damaged.
The racial element of some of these crimes is currently being investigated. The Norfolk police also, for the first time, held a multi-agency meeting to look at Li’s case last week.
Mr Li feels a lot needs to change. He said the police action, such as a dispersal order, would not be enough to stop this abuse. “The parents have to take up the responsibility, too. These parents are either at work or in the pubs. They need to spend time educating their children. The schools are also responsible. The youngsters should be taught how to respect people and about how to live in a multicultural society.”
Jabez Lam of Min Quan said racism and racist attacks on Chinese people have always been there, but they remained unreported and have only recently been recognised.
“It has taken decades to bring public attention to racism against Chinese people. This is because Britain and its media see the Chinese community as self-sufficient and don’t recognise Chinese contribution to British society.
“Some of our community leaders who own the catering businesses want to keep our positive image, so avoid talking about race attacks, thereby avoiding putting pressure on Britain’s race awareness chiefs. Now our community safety is at risk,” he said.
“The way the police have dealt with the Chinese victims has further created unsettling feelings in our community and led to low reporting rates.”
Among the attacks in the past five years, 40 of the victims were arrested. Ninety per cent of the arrested victims were released and had their cases dropped after intervention to stop the secondary victimisation by the police.”
For businessmen like Ming Zhang, the prospect of operating a successful business in a peaceful environment seems like a mountain to climb. He put all his life savings together to open the Dragon Chinese Takeaway in Basildon, Essex, in March 2005.
Soon after the takeaway opened, local youth began to racially harass Mr Zhang and his staff, chanting “f…ing Chinky”, painting graffiti on the counter and walls, urinating and defecating inside the shop, throwing stones at the staff, attempting robbery of the cash till, and repeatedly smashing the glass shop front until the insurance company refused to insure the takeaway. The abuses occurred daily from 5pm when the shop opened till it closed at 11pm.
In July 2005, Mr Zhang was surrounded by over 20 youths near his shop and was seriously attacked by one of them with a metal pole. The others watched and laughed. Mr Zhang was hospitalised for three days. He suffered serious injury in his genital area and body.
Mr Zhang has lived with this abuse for a year. He was so traumatised by the experience that he had to seek mental health support.
As Min Quan reveals, the most serious cases of criminal damage were reported to the police. None of the reports, including Mr Zhang’s CCTV evidence recording the youth’s behaviour, resulted in any arrest or caution.
The abuse and violence continued and it became more intense and frequent. In desperation, Mr Zhang turned to Min Quan for help that August. He said: “I just cannot take it anymore. The police aren’t doing anything. The parents of the youths shout at you for telling their children to leave you alone. I said to myself I am going to kill them – it’s either me dead or them dead. Deep down I know I can’t do this, but what am I supposed to do? I just can’t go on like this.”
It was not until Min Quan’s intervention that the police identified the attackers. But so far, there has been no arrest and charge of those attackers. Today, Mr Zhang continues to receive psychiatric counselling. He is unable to stop himself from trembling when he hears the voices of youths from the kitchen. He is still having to live with the presence of the attackers.
The Basildon police said they don’t know how frequent the attacks are and refused to comment on Mr Zhang’s case.
The victims say they have nowhere to turn and the sense of helplessness is deepening the distrust among the British Chinese and widening the gap with other communities. To protect their lives and livelihoods, Mr Li and his friends in Kings Lynn have resorted to self-organisation – they are setting up a Neighbourhood Watch to fend off race attacks. (Source: voice-online.co.uk/BY HSIAO-HUNG PAICRIENGLISH.com)