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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 5, 2009

Honolulu's Chinatown residents want more police to cut violence

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Makeshift memorials have sprung up at the corner of River and Pauahi streets in Chinatown, where Joseph Peneueta, 35, was shot to death.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Merchants and residents say a perception that crime is rising in Chinatown could undo years of revitalization efforts.

Advertiser library photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Police taped off the scene of a Friday afternoon attack in which a man was stabbed.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Businesses, residents and community leaders called on the mayor yesterday to increase police presence in Chinatown and come up with a "comprehensive, immediate" plan to deter crime after two violent attacks in a week that left one man dead and two other people injured.

"It's scary," said Chu Lan Shubert Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business & Community Association, which sent an open letter with concerns to the mayor yesterday. "You don't know when you're going to be in the line of fire. We have thousands of people who live here and work here and they feel their cries for help are not being heard."

The letter, which along with the association was signed by several community leaders, state lawmakers, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Hawaii Arts Alliance, said, "Crime in Chinatown is out of control."

It asks the city to double police presence in the area, crack down on "crime, drugs and homelessness" in A'ala Park, hold weekly progress meetings with the community and come up with a plan to reduce crime.

Bill Brennan, spokesman for the city, said yesterday that Mayor Mufi Hannemann is "aware and sensitive to the situation in Chinatown" and has been meeting with his cabinet and Honolulu Police Department officials to tackle it. Brennan did not say whether the mayor would increase police presence, but he did say that the mayor doesn't believe more police alone will fix the problem.

"It's going to take the involvement of the community," he said.

Police said in February that they had beefed up patrols in Chinatown and Downtown, after business owners complained that they were seeing an increase in crime, including drug dealing and fights.

Police also said at the time that the spate of violent incidents followed a long downward trend of serious crimes in the community.

Brennan said yesterday that the mayor is also concerned about how recent state cutbacks to mental-health services and social services in the face of a budget shortfall are affecting crime. He said some of the problems in Chinatown could stem from fewer people getting services.

He said the state needs to ensure "the safety net is still viable."

LATEST ATTACK

The open letter to the mayor came a day after an attack on River Street that left two people injured and a week after a man was fatally shot just yards away. In the attack Friday, which happened about 1:30 p.m., a group of men stabbed and beat a man and then punched and kicked his female acquaintance.

The attack left the man in serious condition, while the woman was in stable condition.

Police have not linked the stabbing to the shooting of Joseph Peneueta, 35, who was gunned down at 4:10 a.m. March 28 by two men at the corner of Pauahi and River streets. Zorro Rye and Iosefa Pasene have been charged with second-degree murder in Peneueta's death.

Concerns over crime in Chinatown are worrisome for businesses, who say they're already being hit hard by the economic downturn and fear that years of work to revitalize the community could be lost if something isn't done soon.

"We've always had the gambling and the prostitution," said Marsha Joyner, Arts District Merchants Association coordinator. "But this violence is something we haven't seen before. There isn't one solution."

REVITALIZATION WORK

The city started work to revitalize Chinatown in June 2006, when the mayor held a "Chinatown Summit" and pledged to work closely with the hundreds of merchants and 3,000 residents within the 15 blocks that make up the historic area.

Joyner and others say things have improved since the revitalization project started.

But they say the progress is being eaten away by the two attacks and by the increased perception that Chinatown is no longer safe.

Part of that perception, Joyner said, could be because there are more homeless in the area perhaps because of recent park closures that have forced them out onto the streets or because of the economic meltdown.

Business owners started raising concerns about an apparent rise in Chinatown crime in February, when they came out in force to a neighborhood board meeting and subsequently met privately at the Hawai'i Theatre with police and city officials.

Police statistics to back up the claims were not immediately available.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.