By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer
The efficacy of community-based safety programs versus government and corporate systems was put to the test recently following assaults against seniors in two separate Little Tokyo incidents.
Sumiko Inoue, 87, learned first-hand the value of having community safety personnel nearby on Aug. 2 when a man in his 30s entered her business, Shiatsu Tokyo, on Judge John Aiso Street and began harassing her while yelling anti-Japanese insults. Surprisingly, it is the first crime labeled a “hate incident” in Little Tokyo by the Los Angeles Police Department since anti-Asian hate incidents began to surge nationwide.
Another senior, Akira Fujimoto, was assaulted in early July in front of a Little Tokyo bank. His wallet was stolen. Fujimoto chased the suspect. Soon, a group of young bystanders on skateboards joined the chase, but the culprit escaped.
Fujimoto thought that surely there were security cameras that might help identify the thief. He learned that there was a camera attached to the high-rise building near where he was robbed, but the camera was broken. He wondered why the corporate entity that owns the building couldn’t take time to repair the camera.
The Feb. 25 vandalism at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple received wide media coverage and was investigated as a hate crime by LAPD, yet it ultimately was not categorized as a hate crime because it couldn’t be proven that the rampage was racially motivated.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to verbal and physical assaults, including hate crimes, yet are often reluctant to report them to police. More than 1,000 seniors reside in Little Tokyo.
In an interview with The Rafu Shimpo, Inoue recalled what happened the day she was harassed by a man acting erratically. The shop, where she offers acupressure-type shiatsu services, is closed on Mondays but the front door was open slightly. She was alone, doing office work, when she stepped into the waiting area and was surprised by a suspicious man.
“I grabbed a light chair nearby and held it up to shield myself in fear for an attack, then I shouted to drive out the man,” she said. He ran away, but Inoue recognized him as the same person who had entered her place during business hours twice before in the previous weeks.
Carrie (last name withheld), owner of Ace One-Stop Mail Plus, a business located next to Shiatsu Tokyo, heard Inoue shout, and rushed to the Koban office to summon Brian Kito, Little Tokyo Public Safety Association president.
“It’s important to protect our seniors,” Carrie said, “and Mrs. Inoue is such a nice person.”
When Kito arrived, the suspect was heard yelling statements like “I hate Japanese people.” The man was ultimately caught in front of Mitsuru Sushi and Grill by Little Tokyo Business Improvement District (BID) patrol officers, who detained him until LAPD arrived. Inoue confirmed that it was the same person who entered her shop.
“Maybe it was lucky for us — and unlucky for the man — that he headed for First Street, where the Koban is located,” Inoue said.
LAPD arrested the suspect, who had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, and cited him. He has since been released from custody.
Fujimoto, who runs the Olympic Shop, reflected on the day he was attacked and robbed. His attacker tossed the wallet as he was fleeing. Fujimoto found his wallet as he was walking back to his store. All the cash was gone.
“I was not injured,” the Little Tokyo businessman reasoned. “Everyone says that it was the best thing. Maybe I was lucky as my driver’s license and cards were recovered.” Still, he is troubled because it is unlikely that the thief will be identified since the broken security camera couldn’t record anything.
Fujimoto explained, “I said to the police that there were more surveillance cameras along the way (where) we chased (him), so I told them that they could identify the criminal from other recordings, but the police didn’t seem to (want to) do a further investigation.”
He was shown a photo of the man who harassed Inoue on Aug. 2, but he said it was not the same person.
“I am impressed and grateful that there are reliable neighbors, and the Little Tokyo BID patrol is functioning,” Inoue emphasized.
“We need more attention from the corporations that own large commercial buildings (in Little Tokyo) and from the government,” Fujimoto emphasized.