The Presence
Part Five


 
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The French express that truism better than anyone else--"The more it changes, the more it stays the same." Voltaire said it this way: "History never repeats itself; man always does."
Despite the occurrence of the Golden Dragon massacre and the formation of the Gang Task Force, both of which were history-making events in the annals of San Francisco crime, the Chinese youth gangs continued their activities as though neither had ever taken place. Only a week had passed after the slaughter of innocents in the restaurant on Washington Street before Mouse Lee and Mark Chan were shot down in cold blood out in the Avenues. Extortion, intimidation, assault, homicide went on as before. Gang recruitment flowered in the schools and on the streets, promising a robust and unlimited harvest of evil, given the short span of generations required for the youths to mature from 13-year-old recruits to battle-scarred, dead or imprisoned veterans of 20 or 22.
Typically, as told by some kids at Washington High who ventured to talk about it, recruitment took place according to blueprint, as when, for example, a new boy at school, looking for friends among his own kind--A.B.C.'s or F.O.B.'s--might be taken up as a buddy by a guy who happens to have a car. In the intensity of newly found friendship, mutual confessions are made. The unwitting prospect admits he likes to sniff glue. The boy with the car pulls out a gun from the glove compartment. "Well, this is what I like," he says, "and I got plenty. I'm a Wah Ching. We run this place, you know. Would you like to meet some of my friends?" The new kid is introduced to the other Wah Ching at the school--one helluva bunch of guys.
At home, the new kid starts getting threatening phone calls from people claiming to be Joe Boys: "Listen, asshole, I know what you are. If you know what's good for you, you'll stay home today." He walks down the street and suddenly finds himself surrounded by a taunting group of strangers: "Fucking Wah Ching shitball!"
Frightened, he denies the connection. Unbelieving, they assault him furiously.
At the first opportunity, he ducks out and flees from the pack. Each footfall that puts distance between him and his tormentors both carries him closer to his new friends and bears witness to his metamorphosis from scared rabbit to raging tiger.
When he finds his buddies, they more than merely sympathize. They share his anger and give him a gun.
"Let's get the bastards!" they cry. The new recruit feels a thrill of exaltation: If this is what it's like to be Wah Ching, then, by God, Wah Ching is what I am!
He will never deny it again except, of course, to the police and to his family.
His story repeated itself endlessly in the streets and schools of San Francisco from one gang to another.
In the weeks following the Golden Dragon massacre, after the schools opened for the fall semester, gang activity became so pronounced that the Gang Task Force found itself involved in a flood of new cases competing strongly with the Golden Dragon investigation. Solving the Golden Dragon was to have been the mainstay of the operation, but the Force was showing its face in all areas of Chinese youth-gang crime.
The kids were confronting each other at school and traveling from one school to another, intimidating teachers and assaulting their own kind. Robert "Bob" Figone, Superintendent of Pupil Services for the San Francisco Unified School District, expressed concern about the increase of Chinese kids requesting transfers from one school to another and about the gang activities in the schools--extortion, intimidation and recruitment. There were also threats against life. A white teacher at Washington High was informed by a Chinese student that "you'll be dead by the end of the year." The kid had bragged about being a member of "the Joe Fong Gang." The teacher naturally panicked and called the Gang Task Force, which was already making almost daily passing calls at schools and talking to principals and deans.
Chinatown itself, unrecovered from the trauma of the massacre, broke through its wall of silence long enough to cry for help. Such institutions as Donaldina Cameron House Social Center asked for protection and for special patrols during social functions to make sure no gang kids disrupted things. The Great Star Theater had scheduled a popular kung-fu film. Its owner requested passing calls at narrow intervals during showings of the movie because it would attract a lot of gang kids. There was real fear both inside and outside Chinatown.
Harried and cramped in its miniscule office space, the Force had cause to celebrate in mid-October 1977. They were assigned new quarters and moved out of the chaos of Homicide. No great shakes, frankly, but a blessing under the circumstances, they were given a small office, Room 401, which the inspectors could use for as many as three people, and the bonus of Room 442, the former Community Relations berth, rather a good-size office. They even got their own telephone number, which began to make them feel like the elite, paramilitary unit the press had made them out to be when it wrote its copy from Chief Gain's news releases. Members of the Gang Task Force were not authorized to give information or interviews to the news media. All releases were sanctioned by the Chief.
Jack Jordan took over Homicide, and Lt. Dan Murphy was left solely in charge of the Gang Task Force. A lot of the inspectors from Homicide stayed behind in their old unit, but some went along with the Dragon Force. The squad now was comprised of Lt. Murphy, Dick Gamble, Mike Mullane, Ron Schneider, John McKenna, Jim Deasy, Paul Bertsch, Bob Bonnet, Leon Crouere, Dan Foley, David Horton, Fred Lau, Bernie McNeil, Fred Mollat, Rich Moses, Tim Simmons, Larry Wong, Marshall Wong and secretary Jeannie Blasdell.
Elated, they trooped in to take a look at the new space. It had an entryway with room for a secretary's desk, and a door that led into the main area. There was accommodation for a computer in an alcove off the entryway. The main squad room boasted a sink where coffee could be made, and a large area for desks and files, and an interview sector. The Lieutenant had his own office with a private entrance.
It had but one flaw; there was no furniture.
Tired of making endless, unheeded requests for equipment of any kind, the law enforcers decided to enforce laws of their own. They pillaged the Hall of Justice, taking every chair, cushion, desk, lamp and cabinet no one was around to defend. Some of it they had to return later, but they were able to keep enough to feel that they were at last in business. Still, they had no tape recorders. Foley and Mollat went to a pawnshop in the Fillmore District and bought one on their own. WIthin a few weeks, however, a second was added, transferred from Intelligence. They also officially acquired an old 35mm camera, but no film. The Photo Lab kindly contributed some.
The Gang Task Force was composed of earnest, dedicated men who refused to allow an inadequate budget--actually, no budget at all--to keep them from doing what they had to do.
Dick Gamble devoted himself to following up on all weapons that were turned in from the Chinese gangs, hoping to find the guns used in the Golden Dragon. Bullets recovered at the scene had revealed the types of firearms employed for the massacre. Gamble's was exacting, complicated work. In one instance, the Los Angeles Police Department recovered a .45 Commando semi-automatic rifle, matching the type wielded by the shooter on the lower level of the restaurant. A pawnbroker in Southern California had bought it for $65 from a black male using the name David Miller. The weapon was fully loaded. The dealer immediately called the L.A.P.D. who in turn picked it up and sent it to San Francisco for research.
Gamble checked through A.T.F. (the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Unit) and found that the weapon had been manufactured by Commando Enterprises in Knoxville, Tennessee, before being wholesaled in 1974 to a rifle shop in Petaluma, California. Tony A. Sampson of Petaluma purchased the weapon from the shop that same year. Having narrowed the search down to a buyer in a town an hour's drive north of San Francisco, Gamble, excited by the prospect of a real lead in the Golden Dragon affair, tried to contact Sampson.
He received surprising news; Sampson was already being detained by the Sonoma County Sheriff for numerous acts of vandalism in Sonoma County. Local detectives apprised Gamble that the entire Sampson family was in custody for slashing tires and the like around public schools. The family had waged war against the Petaluma Board of Education and the City Fathers. They had turned their home into a fortress, and their challenge to police to come and get them had resulted in just that.
David Miller was alleged to be an employee of the Sampson family. On a Sunday, while the family was at church, Miller and another man broke into the house and stole an arsenal of guns, and also the Sampsons' truck. Abandoning the truck in San Francisco, Miller made his way south and sold the Commando .45 to the pawnbroker in Los Angeles.
This gun had no connection to the Golden Dragon, but, for a while, it had looked as if Gamble's tireless efforts were paying off. Undaunted, he went on to the next firearm, in the same way that the other members of the Gang Task Force went from one stray lead to another. They were all convinced that the long hours, the dead-ends and the continual running from one end of the city to the other would bear fruit. They had known from the beginning that it wouldn't be easy.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris