The Presence
Part Six


 
On October 21, 1977, all hell started breaking loose at the schools. The long-awaited campaign expected by the Force, the principals and the teachers appeared to have begun.
There was a shooting at Marina Junior High School. Marina included the seventh through the ninth grades, with a student body comprising kids ranging from 12 to 15. Foley and Mollat had been there previously to listen to the Dean of Boys talk about the many problems developing since the semester commenced. Most amazing to the administration was the cruel behavior, physical and mental, of the Chinese gang kids toward each other. The gangs were ballooning in membership in all age groups at Marina, increasing the likelihood of massive confrontation.
On the 21st, a Friday, a group of Dai Ben accompanied a fellow member to class at Marina because he had had a problem at school the day before. They were, in effect, the military escort of a royal personage--Ronald Chang, younger brother of the Dai Ben leader, James "Dai Ben" Chang. Ronald claimed that on the 20th he got into an argument with "some guys" who took a shot at him when he refused to fight. He arrived on the 21st with Harry Lee, Michael Kao and Anthony Wong. His guard of honor was composed of older boys who attended Galileo High, a few blocks away. It was their usual practice to ride with Ronald to the school's bus stop and then continue on their way. In light of yesterday's turn of events, however, it was thought safer to see him all the way to the classroom.
They reached Marina about 8:45 and were about to enter en masse when the boys who had fired on Ronald the previous day suddenly dove into view at the top of the inside stairway, raced down and burst outside into the schoolyard. At the forefront, a Wah Ching kid named Craig Yu whipped a pistol out of his jacket, aimed it at Ronald and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, but the bullet missed the young prince of the Dai Ben. The assassination attempt foiled, Craig and his troops --Leo Wong, Tony Tong and David Tang--hit the sidewalk at full gallop. Ronald and his guards gave chase, but the fleet-footed team of would-be assassins veered off and disappeared into a building.
Ronald strode into the office of the Dean of Boys and reported the incident testily, identifying the shooter and his friends both by name and as members of the Wah Ching Gang. Ronald's group made a great show of being unarmed. "I'm gonna take them to court," insisted James Chang's little brother. "I'm not afraid of them."
Craig Yu told a different story. He said that he and his friends, all bona-fide Marina students, were en route to class when Ronald's group started running toward them. One of the Dai Ben had cried, "Shoot 'em!", in Cantonese, and they had then stuck their hands in their jackets as if they had guns secreted there.
Somewhat more than a week later, there was a fight on Taylor Street, again involving the Dai Ben. Peter Tam was booked, along with his brother, David. Harry Lee, Michael Kao, Harry Yip and Holden Gee were along for the fun, although only David and Peter were charged with fighting. The Dai Ben chased several white boys into 2669 Taylor and then broke up the place--a microwave oven, some tables and chairs, a juicer and a coffee maker. So now the Dai Ben were challenging everybody, even the whites, which was considered unusual at the time. The white kids, as it turned out, were guilty of entering the Fisherman's Wharf area, where the Dai Ben apparently did not consider them welcome.
On the 14th of November, the mother of two Wah Ching brothers, Steven and Bobby Lee, called the Force to advise them that her son Bobby had been assaulted with a shot gun in front of the house, an incident witnessed by his father. Steven was then in jail at the California Youth Authority. Before this maternal report came in, the Gang Task Force already knew why somebody was after Bobby with a gun. Four days before, the boy had gone up to Lincoln High School with four other kids to assault Joe Boys Eugene Yoshi and Victor Woo. Two of the suspects had weapons, one of which was a .45-caliber automatic used to pistol-whip Eugene across the eyes, and the other of which was a .22-caliber revolver firmly pressed against the Japanese-American boy's back.
Both Steven and Bobby Lee were present at the killing of Patrick Huey's brother that summer. (Patrick was the Joe Boy who would later marry April Kitagawa, who would participate in the Terry Lee kidnapping and assault in 1978.) There would therefore have been extremely bad blood between these Wah Ching brothers and all of the Joe Boys. Thoroughly frightened for Bobby's life, his mother shipped him out of town to Sacramento and later sent him to live in Fairfield, hoping thus to keep him clear of the San Francisco gangs. There was no doubt in the minds of Force personnel that the shotgun attack on Bobby was a result of the earlier assault on Eugene and Victor, which was doubtless the result of previous attacks by Joe Boys on Wah Ching and vice versa and so forth, ad nauseam. It would have to continue until Eugene and Victor and Bobby and any number of other people might get killed.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. "The more it changes, the more it stays the same."
Three days later, on November 17, 1977, Foley got a call at 4 o'clock in the afternoon from Taraval Station about another assault with a gun, this time at Lowell High School. The victim was Donald Hom, a student there. He was known to the Force as a Wah Ching. He was hit with a black automatic by Anthony "Popeye" Wong, a Joe Boy from Lincoln High. The reporting officer, a policeman named Lockner, said that Victor Woo and Leslie Russell were with Popeye and fled with him, after the assault, in a Dodge Dart registered to a Paul Chu. Paul Chu's son was John Chu, a student at Lincoln and actively involved with Joe Boys. Popeye had recruited Leslie and Victor into the gang from Lincoln, a Joe Boy stronghold. John Chu was a short, thin boy with a harelip. The only thing he had to contribute to the gang was his father's car.
This assault was another result of the one on Victor and Eugene. It was thought that Leslie and Popeye were now hiding at Victor's house. Foley phoned there and talked to all three. Meanwhile, Mollat called Taraval Station and advised them that his partner was keeping the boys occupied on the phone. "We'll pick 'em up," Taraval responded, and did so. Popeye was booked for assault with a deadly weapon. Leslie had already left, but Foley reached him somehow and gave him a message which he had communicated to Victor and Eugene: "Be at Lincoln tomorrow morning in the dean's office. We want to have a talk with you guys."
While all this was going on, John McKenna sat in another area of the Gang Task Force office taking calls. One was of special interest. An informant told McKenna that Victor Woo, who at that very moment was talking to Foley on a second line, was planning to carry a weapon to school the next day, November 18th. Two more calls came in, announcing proposed gang incidents at Lincoln, Washington and Lowell High Schools, involving Arabs, Chinese, and whites against Chinese, also on the following day. More calls indicated that the white kids were now upset, too. McKenna, Foley, Mollat, and everyone else stared at each other and shook their heads. This was it--open war. "This has got to be the ultimate gang fight of every type of nationality there is," McKenna sighed. The Force immediately notified all stations and other units to be ready for combat in case the reports were true.
On the morning of the 18th of November, as soon as Foley and Mollat got into the office, they called Lincoln High and talked to Robert "Bob" Loustalot, Dean of Boys, to tell him they were on the way. They had already advised him of the possible trouble. He told them police from Taraval had just come up and arrested Victor Woo for having a .45 in his locker. The Joe Boy had gone to his gym locker, where one of the physical education instructors had seen him pull out a paper bag from inside his shirt and stash it. The teacher thought it might be a gun. Bob Loustalot and the teacher cut the locker open and found the .45 automatic.
The two cops went out to Lincoln. While they interviewed Leslie Russell and Eugene Yoshi about the assault at Lowell the day before, a student came to Dean Loustalot's office.
"I can't get into my locker on the second floor," he complained.
"Who do you share with?" asked the dean.
The boy gestured toward the black kid sitting beside Eugene. "That guy--Leslie Russell."
Foley and Mollat glanced at each other across the desk. Their bells started to chime. Everybody went upstairs to the second floor. Dean Loustalot looked at the lock.
"No wonder you can't get in here," he explained. "This lock's been changed."
"Yes, sir," agreed the complainant, "and I don't know the combination."
Loustalot cut off the lock. Inside the locker was a .22 revolver, a Liberty Arms, the famous "Saturday-night special."
The cops then took Leslie, and John Chu, whose car had been used the day before in the escape from Lowell, down to Taraval Station for a talk. They booked Leslie for possession of the .22. Foley told him this was a prime example of the Gang Task Force immediately knowing when he had committed a crime, as in the incident at Lowell when the initial report included a black boy described as being with two Chinese. It couldn't have been anyone but Leslie. Leslie Russell, at 17, was a tall, thin boy. Foley had run into him on several occasions. At first intrigued by a black person's wanting to be so thick with the Chinese, as well as by the kid's being accepted into the Joe Boy Gang, it hadn't taken the cop long to realize that Leslie was obsessed with a desire to BE Chinese.
"Hell, you're crazy," Foley had phrased it once. "You're black. What's wrong with that? You oughta be proud of it! Don't you realize that if you get into trouble, and somebody says there was a black boy with the Asian guys, you'll stand out like a sore thumb?"
At Taraval, Foley decided to go for broke: "You've got three choices if you stay in this gang. One choice is death; you may be murdered, shot down in the street. The second is to spend a lifetime nursing wounds you should never have had; the shots might not kill you; they might just paralyze your body or your brain. The third is that you'll be talked into committing a serious crime; you'll be arrested and spend several years in prison. Those are the only realistic options left to a gang member."
Leslie had said little in reply. He didn't seem to care. Foley got the impression that the boy was almost happy to be booked at the Youth Guidance Center as a member of a Chinese gang. It was if he had finally "arrived."
 

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2000 Brockman Morris