Year of the Serpent
Part Seven


 
If Wayne needed a role model in Chinatown's "straight" world in 1972, he could have found it in Barry Fong-Torres. The circumstances of their acquaintanceship are not known, but that they had some contact with each other is suggested by the fact that Wayne's name and telephone number were listed in Barry's neat script on a page of the latter's address book.
Barry Fong-Torres, somewhat husky at 29, served the Asian community as a brilliant and respected youth worker. He was of purely Chinese descent, despite the "Torres" appended to "Fong" by means of a hyphen. According to knowledgeable friends of his, Barry's family settled for a while in the Philippines where it added the Spanish name in reaction to discrimination against the Chinese in those Southeast Asian islands.
Reared in Oakland and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, Barry left his job as a probation officer in Contra Costa County to accept the position of Executive Director of the Youth Services and Coordinating Center on Columbus Avenue in Chinatown. He spent much of his on-duty time working with troubled Chinese youths at the Center before hitting the streets at all hours of the night to deal with the problems facing the kids on their own turf.
On the evening of June 20, 1972, Barry reported to police the burglary of his basement apartment on 16th Avenue in the Sunset District. Thieves had pried open the door and made off with three rifles, a target pistol, $20 in cash, and two blankets presumed to have been used to conceal the weapons upon exiting the building.
Barry's family feared the theft might have been related to his work with the gangs. His father had already advised him a few months before to move away from Chinatown, which Barry, as a good Chinese son who contributed financially to his parents' support, had done. He had occupied the 16th-Avenue apartment for a scant two months before the break-in.
He had a low opinion of the gangs, although he had developed good relationships with many of the participating youths. He advised the Board of Directors at the Center that the gang boys were vicious and had the propensity to hurt the people who were trying most to help them.
Barry's statement embodied a prophecy.
Station KGO invited him to participate in a radio interview, scheduled for June 27th, to talk about the Chinese youth gangs. On the evening of June 26th, police noted an unusually large gathering of young gang types on Jackson Street, notably the Yao Lai, including Joe Fong. Many of the Yao Lai, of course, would shortly regroup as the Chung Ching Yee, who were commonly called the Joe Boys as followers of Joe Fong. But the Yao Lai were not alone among the kids thronging Jackson that night. Other gangs were present.
Outside Chinatown, on 16th Avenue in the Sunset, Barry Fong-Torres sat in his apartment entertaining a girlfriend. At about 9:20, the doorbell rang. Barry went to answer at the alleyway entry. A series of shots were heard by the girl and several neighbors. She ran out to find him bleeding severely from gunshot wounds in the head, the chest, and the abdomen. She called police and an ambulance.
Barry was pronounced dead on arrival at Park Emergency Hospital 20 minutes after the attack.
Beside his body in the doorway were found two spent .22-caliber casings and a white glove of the type issued to pallbearers. Beneath him lay an envelope addressed to him and enclosing folded pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, across which had been scrawled in ink: "Pig infomer [sic] die yong [sic]."
Why was Barry Fong-Torres murdered? Who did it?
A modus operandi among young Chinatown gangsters at the time involved ringing a doorbell and shooting point-blank the person who responded. One such case resulted in an arrest and conviction, but Barry's homicide was never solved. The case is inactive, but open, today. As for a motive, many felt that the gangs feared Barry would reveal too much in the radio interview the next day.
His death left a large rent in the fabric of youth services in Chinatown. Wayne Yee may have seen a grand opportunity to patch it, and channeled his energy toward establishing Chinese Youth Alternatives in February 1974. But whereas Barry brought humility and high principle to the role, Wayne was known for his egotism and arrogance.
Wayne was extremely close to Joe Fong. After Joe went to prison, Wayne, by his own admission to reporters and according to the word of informers from behind prison walls, visited the gang leader in jail on an average of once a month--for years.
In 1974, a police informant alleged that Joe had wanted Barry killed because the youth worker was opposed to Joe's gang. The same informant also named Wayne as a member of the gang, along with Gary Pang. He stated, too, that Gary was targeted for death by the John Louie Gang, another spinoff from the Wah Ching, and that Gary owned not only a handgun, but also a machine gun. Such statements were often offered to police by disaffected or thwarted members of rival gangs, generally without proof, in hopes of stirring up trouble for the enemy.
True or not, these allegations serve the purpose, in this narrative, of pointing out that many of Wayne's long-time associations in Chinatown were, at best, unsavory. Hidden well below the surface of public politicking, they rendered him deserving of the Task Force's addition of the denigrating "bad" to his name.
The police were not out to "get" Wayne at any price. In September 1977, there was no concrete evidence linking him directly or indirectly to the Golden Dragon massacre. It was a matter of morality. Most of the investigators were family men with half-grown children of their own for whom they worked hard, at relatively low pay, to educate and keep off the streets. Several were themselves involved in youth-aid programs.
Nor did the members of the Task Force hate the Asian gang kids in general. Rather, they viewed them as unfortunates cast adrift in a society often foreign even to the American-born Chinese. Without patronizing, they saw them as kids manipulated too frequently by their own kind into the untenable position of having to lie, cheat, steal, or kill in order to survive. Rarely did these cops apply terms like "dirtball" and "asshole" to the youngsters. Still, as men of the world, they recognized that potential monsters existed in the ranks of the youthful gangsters, just as monsters in human form exist in society everywhere.
The "bad" Wayne Yee's misuse of influence with the boys of Chinatown comprised a moral offense which led those in pursuit of the Golden Dragon to consider him a snake--by dictionary definition, "a treacherous and deceitful person."
By the end of the Year of the Serpent, 1977, the Force had found a fuse to light the way along the curving path Wayne had woven through the political and criminal life of the city. And there, at the end of the road, they would find the serpent coiled--on a box of dynamite.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris