By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Property theft and robbery in Seattle has recently experienced an uptick across the board — however, one concerning pattern that has emerged is that Asian women in their 60s and older are being targeted, specifically because they are a vulnerable population.
“We have robbery victims of all ages, genders,” said Mark Solomon, crime prevention coordinator based out of South Police Department (SPD)’s south precinct. “The ones that are very concerning to us are the ones who are elderly Asian women, who are injured in the process.”
Women have had their gold chains snatched from around their necks. Solomon said that victims sometimes get pushed or shoved in the midst of robberies — resulting in injury. He said not too long ago, a woman dislocated her hip after falling down after a robbery.
Solomon described an incident in which a female business owner in her 60s was just about finished closing up her shop in the International District with her car nearby when a thief snatched her purse out of the front seat of her car. The thief then jumped into a waiting vehicle, speeding off right after the theft. The victim’s purse had held the day’s proceeds.
“Obviously, this person knew her routine,” said Solomon. “He knew that at the end of the day, there would be thousands of dollars of cash and credit card receipts in her purse.”
Solomon said that the suspects are usually young males, ranging from teens into their 30s. Solomon stresses that the suspect descriptions vary greatly. He also said a correlation should not be drawn between the robberies SPD has been seeing and the homeless population. “Often, the victimization involving the homeless are often done by other homeless,” said Solomon. “You can’t say that these transients over here are responsible for this stuff over here.”
Solomon stated that within the International District, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, and other areas with high concentrations of immigrants, older Asian women have been targeted due to the high likelihood that they wear gold jewelry, carry purses, or carry large amounts of cash.
Linh Thai, SPD’s Asian community liaison, pointed to cultural norms that create these tendencies. Gold is not only prized as a precious metal, but also as a color and symbol of power in China, Thailand, India, Vietnam, and numerous other countries in Asia. Compared to those who were born or who grew up in the West, first generation Asian Americans tend to wear more gold.
“[Additionally,] many business owners in the southeast area of Seattle don’t take credit cards,” said Thai. “They want [customers to pay in] cash only. That can be a dangerous policy. When I advise Asians not to carry cash, they say to me, ‘Uncle, I have to carry cash, or I can’t pay for anything.’”
Thai and Solomon suggest that people wear their jewelry underneath their clothes so that it’s not visible. “At the same time, try to minimize the amount of valuables you have,” said Solomon. “Carry a minimal amount of cash. Take what you need for that day. That means planning out your day.”
Solomon also urges citizens to keep their keys and their identification separate. That way, if a wallet or purse does get stolen, the thief cannot easily burglarize the victim’s house or property, also.
Beyond putting purses on the floor instead of in passenger seats, Solomon also suggests putting valuables in the trunk before reaching a final destination. “You do it before so you’re not showing people that you’re putting your valuables in the trunk, where your car is going to be parked for a while.”
Crime prevention also extends beyond the initial theft. Solomon and Thai caution people against buying merchandise that looks like it could have been stolen — for example, jewelry that appears broken.
ROBBERY AND THEF PREVENTION
Based on materials provided by Seattle Police Department
Take an active role in reducing your chances of becoming a victim of robbery or theft.
— Keep your head up and scan your surroundings. Make eye contact with people. This sends a message that you know they are there and that you can also identify them if necessary.
— Walk confidently. Project an assertive, business-like image.
— Avoid listening to music through earphones when out on the street. It prevents you from paying full attention.
— If you are being followed or you see a person or group that makes you feel uncomfortable, cross the street, walk in another direction, go into a business, or ask other pedestrians if you may walk a short distance with them.
Protect your property
— Carry your valuables safely. Don’t display items when walking to and from your destination.
— When using public transportation, keep your purse, shopping bag, backpack, or packages in your lap, on your arm, or between your feet — not by themselves on an empty seat.
— Put your phone away. Use it only if you really need to. After you’re done, put it away again.
— If you wear necklaces, wear them underneath your clothing rather than prominently displayed.
If you are confronted
— If someone demands your property and displays or implies in any way that they have a weapon, don’t resist. Your physical property isn’t worth getting injured or killed over.
— Do not pursue the thief. Put distance between yourself and the thief. Call 911 and report the crime as soon as possible. Language lines for interpretation are available.
Often, immigrant victims of theft or robbery either don’t report the crime at all or they wait too long before calling SPD. Many take hours, not making a 911 call until they get home and have someone who can translate into English for them.
“We want them to call us as soon as possible,” said Solomon. “As soon as they are in a place of safety. … If English is not their first language, we do have language lines. All they need to do is say what language they need and we can set up a three-way call.”
Solomon states that beyond language gaps, the reasons why crime is underreported in Asian immigrant populations (and immigrant populations in general) include the desire to save face. Being the victim of a crime creates feelings of shame and embarrassment sometimes — fear of retaliation, distrust of police due to experiences with corrupt government in other countries they have lived in, and legal status.
“Sometimes people are undocumented,” said Solomon. “And it’s illegal for us to ask about it.” Solomon said that SPD officers cannot inquire about legal status — so any victim of a crime can and should report it.
Solomon and Thai said that SPD officers sometimes come across people who were witnesses to a crime, but do not want to get involved. “We really need for people to step up, to be willing to be witnesses,” said Solomon. “Because when we think about a 67-year-old Chinese woman, a 62-year-old Vietnamese woman, a 65-year-old Asian Pacific Islander woman — these are someone’s mother or grandma. Be willing to speak up so we can prevent this from happening.”
Solomon said that for various reasons, people don’t want to share their names and information — but they do want to help. He said that people can request that their name is not disclosed. What is most important is that SPD has a way of contacting witnesses. Solomon also said that a witness can choose the kind of contact he or she has with SPD. For instance, if he or she does not want in-person contact, he or she may request phone contact only.
With crimes, in order for a prosecution to go through, there has to be a victim. Often within Asian immigrant populations, victims of crime and witnesses are unwilling to go to court and testify.
“I try to advocate [going to court],” said Thai. “And [the victim will] say, ‘No, forget about it. Don’t mention it again. I feel shamed enough about it. I don’t want to go to court.’ And then the case gets dismissed. So if you don’t go to testify, it gets dismissed.”
“Technically, the way the court sees it, we don’t have a victim,” said Solomon.
“Therefore, there’s no way to go forward.”
“Sometimes, Asians don’t want to disturb the police,” said Thai. “They say, ‘If [the police] come, and they can’t find the suspect, I will be blamed for calling and wasting their time.’ And I say, ‘No, no, we get paid to serve you. We are happy to show up. Please call.’”
“[Distrust of police is] one of the things where, as long as I’ve been doing this — and I’ve been doing this for 26 years — that’s one of the hardest things for us to overcome. Convincing people that it is okay for them to call the police,” said Solomon. “You are not going to get in trouble. We’re not going to charge you. You can trust us.”
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.