The Presence
Part Seven


 
Foley and Mollat turned to John Chu to quiz him for more details about the assault at Lowell. At the back of their minds were the reports that today was the day for something big to happen. They presumed it would be at the schools. The gang kids could be gathering somewhere right now.
All of a sudden, they heard a broadcast come over the air to Taraval. A shooting had just taken place at Turk and Masonic. The victim was a young Chinese male.
Rushing out the door, Foley turned his head and said to John Chu over his shoulder: "Behave yourself, John. We've gotta go." He and Mollat jumped into their car and took off for the scene of the crime.
When they got there, John McKenna, Mike Mullane, Ron Schneider and other members of the unit had already responded. There was a car parked just before the intersection, its nose aimed east on Turk at Masonic, as though it had stopped at the light. Inside sprawled the body of a young Chinese man who was later identified as Steven Kong, who no longer hung around with the gang kids. He had been involved in a shooting against the Joe Boys at Zim's at 17th and Geary a year before this. At that time, he had been employed at a gas station at Turk and O'Farrell, on the edge of the Tenderloin.
Steven Kong's present employer was Joe Tondo, 55, who owned and operated the gas station at 99 Masonic. Steven had worked as a light mechanic at the station for four or five months, six days a week from noon to 4, off on Sundays. He usually picked up his girlfriend at Washington High before coming to work. That was obviously where he was headed when he was killed.
When Foley interviewed Joe Tondo that day, the Asian said he knew Steven had been in trouble, but he had given him a job to keep him off the streets. He liked the kid. Steven had been a good employee and always showed up on the job.
He wouldn't anymore.
Foley and Mollat also responded to a report that there were a couple of witnesses at the blood bank across the street at 281 Masonic. They went over and talked to them. Laura Harris, a black lady about 40, said that she heard four loud bangs which sounded like a car backfiring. Another clerk in the building, Jean Berk, white and 58, also heard the shots. When she went out to see what had happened, she met a sandy-haired, freckle-faced girl in her mid-20's, who told Miss Berk to call the police because someone had been shot. Miss Berk advised Miss Harris to call and then looked down the street and saw a tall, slender, white male, in his early 20's, trying to enter the vehicle either to help or talk to the victim. He was wearing a yellow turtleneck. Miss Berk thought the white man and woman may have been together and were probably passersby. Miss Berk saw no other vehicles or suspects.
Other witnesses on the street at the time of the shooting spoke of a red Monte Carlo with a white top, of a model ranging anywhere from 1972 to 1976. The cops called the Gang Task Force office and asked Jeannie Blasdell to check the files for any such car. There was one on file, registered to a known Joe Boy. Additional information was also on file to the effect that other Joe Boys had been seen operating a similar vehicle on a couple of occasions during the previous six months. That car had been a '73 or '74 Monte Carlo with patched bullet holes on the side.
The vehicle was located in a garage over in Oakland a few days later. Rich Moses and Herman Clark, of the Homicide Unit, participated in a stake-out. While they were watching the garage, a Ford Granada drove up, which was recognized to be that of another Joe Boy. Several other Joe Boys were also passengers in the Ford. Two of them got out of the Granada and entered the garage, where they were apprehended. One of the two dropped the keys and tried to kick them under the suspect car. This seemingly minor factor became important in an unrelated trial later on, when that boy tried to deny gang affiliation. The small point held up in court because it showed he had been there that evening, with all those confirmed Joe Boys riding in his car.
Police surmised that the Joe Boys were en route to whatever high school the scheduled "great war" was to have taken place. The random sighting of a Wah Ching distracted them from their plan. Instead of marching into battle against an enemy host, they killed one lone and aging warrior--Steven Kong.
The news must have traveled fast. There really was supposed to be a war that day, but nobody came.
The Kong homicide, although it may have stopped a war, did start a trend. Reports poured in from gang kids who swore that opposition gang kids were following them around. It became obvious that many of these supposed sightings were hallucinatory in character. The boys were afraid to be by themselves on the streets. They were scared to death someone was going to sneak up and kill them. If they had to walk alone, they watched their backs constantly. They ducked away from any car slowly driving by, took cover, and called the Dragon Force for help. It was always somebody prominent who was after them, such as Hotdog Louie. That gave the unit a good laugh. They realized that Hotdog didn't even know these younger kids. Actually, a lot of the Joe Boys, in particular, didn't even know their own gang members who were going to other schools.
Of all the things that happened on November 18th, one stayed on Foley's mind more than the others. He suffered a strong sense of frustration about his encounter with Leslie Russell, the black who wanted to be Chinese. The "Father" Foley image of his Fillmore days was an honest expression of his concern for the young people he dealt with in his work.
Leslie wasn't interested in hearing more sermons from a cop, but Foley paid several visits to him while the kid was interned at the Youth Guidance Center. The boy flaunted his connection with the Joe Boys. It appeared to be an extremely important element of his psychological make-up that he was accepted as a rough-and-ready "brother" by the Chinese. After many fruitless talks, Foley finally had to tell the good Samaritan he harbored in his own soul: "This black kid wants to be Chinese so bad he would turn yellow if he could. There's not much I can do."
Leslie's father and mother, a set of loving and honorable parents, recognized Foley's concern for their son. When they found out that all they had to do to secure Leslie's release was to ask the Probation Officer to let the boy come home, they approached Foley for advice.
"Leave him there," the policeman suggested. "Maybe the experience will teach him a lesson."
They did, but it didn't.
Eventually, Leslie got out of stir at Juvenile Hall and went back to school. He didn't run up against Foley for a few months, but he remained as much a Joe Boy as he was before his arrest. One night in April 1978, Leslie and another Joe Boy, Peter "Yellow Dragon" Chan, were spotted in Chinatown by Larry Ryan and Rich Moses of the Gang Task Force. Foley had been right about one thing; Leslie couldn't move around the Chinese community without standing out in the crowd. The cops warned him about causing trouble: "Anything happens, and in five minutes, we'll be there."
Leslie gave Ryan and Moses a look that said, "Blah, blah, blah," but his voice was respectful when he vocalized, "Hey, you guys, nothin's gonna happen!"
He and Peter walked away. Less than an hour later, the unit heard over the radio: "Robbery and shooting at 1018 Columbus near the 365 Club...Chinese guy and a black guy. Get over there quick."
After leaving Chinatown, Leslie and Peter had stopped by the Mechanical Museum Arcade, or M&M, a Joe Boy hangout at the time, located on Jones Street near Fisherman's Wharf. There, they ran into some other Joe Boys--David Yu, Karl Jeong and Jimmy Chow. Jimmy purportedly handed Leslie a nickel-plated, .22-caliber revolver. Shortly thereafter, Leslie and Peter walked a few blocks up Columbus Avenue to Louie's Liquors, arriving at 7:45 P.M. Peter went in first and approached the cash register. Owner Sing Louie, 60, stood behind the counter. His son, Fred, 19, and daughter, Lillian, 18, were working with him that evening. There was one customer in the store, Jose Sanchez of Novato.
In Cantonese, Peter stated, "It's a robbery." Coming up behind him, Leslie pulled his Chinese jacket apart at the front and displayed a pistol tucked into his belt on the left side. "You want some of this?" he threatened. More angry than frightened, Sing Louie raised his fist and started to argue. Leslie tried to calm him with "Be cool!", but the older man ranted on until Peter shoved him roughly toward a chair. "Sit down and shut up!" he shouted. Peter slammed his hand down hard on the register, expecting it to pop open. It didn't. "Open this goddamned thing," he growled at young Fred. Less reckless than his father, Fred opened the register, and Peter started removing the money.
At this point, Sing Louie leaped up from his chair and grabbed a bayonet hidden under the counter for just such an emergency. He lunged at the Chinese youth raiding his till. Peter fell back under the impact of the man's attack. The two struggled violently. Leslie, panicstricken at the sight of the bayonet thrusting at his friend, whipped the pistol from his waist and fired three times into Sing Louie's body. Lillian screamed as her father crumpled to the floor. The robbers then scampered out to Columbus Avenue, with Peter scattering 18 one-dollar bills and three fives as he ran.
The boys headed for the nearby Francisco Projects, whose warren of corridors provided an ideal place to hide temporarily. It was there that Leslie realized his pal was bleeding and in great pain. Sing Louie's bayonet had struck home. Peter was badly wounded. "Let's go over to the M&M and clean that up," Leslie suggested. Making their way to the arcade's men's room, Peter wrapped his right hand in paper towels. Robert "Bob" Albritton, the manager of the game parlor, who knew them both by name, was in the restroom when the two entered. "Peter's been cut bad," Leslie explained. According to his own testimony, Albritton assumed they'd been in a fight and had no thought of reporting the incident to police. Leslie would report to Foley and other officers later, however, that Bob Albritton had said, "Hey, I didn't see a thing!"
They went back to the game room and asked David, Karl and Jimmy to step outside. On the sidewalk, Leslie stated to them all, "Hey, man, I shot the dude!" Leslie said in court that he and Peter then left the M&M and walked down to Fisherman's Wharf, where Leslie dropped the gun off a pier. But in a more personal interview with Foley, he reported he returned the weapon to Jimmy right there. After Leslie had announced his feat, they stared at him for a moment before David pointed toward his blue GTO and said, "Get in the car."
David drove them to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, a town an hour south, near San Jose, far enough removed from San Francisco, they hoped, to avoid a city police report. Leslie and Peter crouched down on the floor of the back seat. Also in the car were David's Korean girlfriend--Mi Wa Lee, Jimmy and another Korean girl. Karl followed in a green Olds, and a third vehicle containing younger Joe Boys convoyed behind him.
They all met at Kaiser Hospital, where Dr. Thomas Allred treated "Tony Tong" for lacerations of the right hand. Karl had taken Peter inside while the others waited in the parking lot. Then they went to Sambo's Restaurant in Cupertino for a bite to eat. They sat at one big table. The next stop was an all-night dance marathon at Cupertino High School, but it wasn't long before a teacher, who thought them too rowdy, kicked the whole group out. Outside, they got into a fight with four white guys. Police were called, but "our gang" scrammed when the black-and-whites responded to the scene.
Meanwhile, Sing Louie lay at Mission Emergency in San Francisco. The trauma team tried valiantly to save him. At 8:20 P.M., 35 minutes after Peter "Yellow Dragon" Chan and Leslie Russell entered his small liquor store, Sing Louie was pronounced dead.
The black kid who wanted so desperately to be Chinese, who wore Chinese jackets and joined a Chinese gang, had become the murderer of a Chinese.
He hid out for several days at the homes of two Chinese gang girls, got an attorney, and turned himself in. A month later, in a conversation with Jimmy Chow at the Youth Guidance Center--where Jimmy was cooling his heels after being booked on some charge or other--Leslie learned that Jimmy had traded the .22 "to some white guy" in exchange for a tattoo.
A couple of days after Leslie gave himself up, Peter Chan was found at Miz Brown's Restaurant on Clement Street. Sitting with Peter were two girls who gave false names to the police. One of them was actually Anne DeSilva who, the following October, would participate in the kidnapping and assault of Terry Lee. The other was Karen Wong. Ann was suspected of harboring Peter in her home after the death of Sing Louie. Also at Peter's table were David Yu, who had driven him to the hospital in Santa Clara, and Anne's cousin Victor Pedrucco, as well as another Joe Boy, Robert Wong.
Leslie and Peter's bail was set at $150,000 each. Peter lucked out. He was still very much a juvenile in the eyes of the law, being barely 16. The California Youth Authority would handle him out in Stockton, California, at the facility some kids called "the country club." Leslie, five months short of 18, was certified as "not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile law." Held for jury trial as an adult, he was convicted of first-degree murder and received a sentence of life in prison.
Dan Foley visited Leslie in jail. Despite all efforts, the black boy still couldn't pass for Chinese. He looked at Foley with new understanding. "I wish I would have listened," he said.
While most of the gangs were preoccupied with causing trouble at the schools during the fall semester of 1977, the Hop Sing Boys had busily attended to the extortions and robberies in Chinatown. They were probably the most active group at that sort of thing while everyone else kept a lower profile and scattered before the Gang Task Force.
One Hop Sing Boy of special note at that time was Kaiman Lee. He had been arrested for an extortion. When the date of his trial loomed close, he conjured up the wall of silence with all the magic of Huang-ti on a flying horse, when the Chinese emperor wielded the heavenly whip that sliced away mountains obstructing the Great Wall's path.
Kaiman, the strong-arm artist of the Hop Sing Boys, took to walking up and down the 800 and 900 blocks of Grant Avenue to intimidate witnesses who were expected to testify. When he passed by 949 Grant, where the extortion had occurred, he pranced back and forth, time after time, like a ferocious lion ready to pounce on its prey. He achieved a brilliant success. The people in the case refused to talk, and the lion was cut loose from the rope of the law.
A victim, like Leslie Russell, of the push-your-luck syndrome, Kaiman was subsequently arrested for a robbery case, tried, convicted, and sent to practice his lion dance at Soledad State Prison, where the gray walls also have nothing to say.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. "The more it changes, the more it stays the same."
 

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2000 Brockman Morris