Hundreds gathered outside city hall Saturday decrying the state of public safety in Chinatown, the smell of incense wafting past portraits of the two men recently slain in the historic neighborhood.
“Chinatown is sitting at the rim of a precipice, looking down into a black hole,” Michael Lee of the Chinese Benevolent Association told the crowd of nearly 300 at the ‘Rally for Safety in Chinatown.’
“Unless we reverse (course), this black hole will swallow us up. It will extinguish all hope, it will destroy all human dignity, it will swallow people up body and soul. ”
Two men in their 60s – Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang – were beaten to death in the Chinatown area May 18 by a man now facing second-degree murder charges.
Hundreds of flooded council chambers earlier this week, demanding a response to what realtor Sandy Pon at Saturday’s rally described as “two tragedies and decades of neglect.”
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro then cited the killings in his controversial Thursday invocation of the Police Act, ordering Edmonton city council to develop a “public safety plan” to deal with crime in the Downtown core.
Saturday’s rally included speeches from Chinatown business owners and community members, current and former politicians from all levels of government, as well as city police Chief Dale McFee.
Attendees held placards reading: ‘enough is enough,’ ‘safety and protection,’ and ‘hug your local Chinatown shop owner.’
Lee spoke about Chinatown’s history and its track record of “existing in harmony” with Indigenous people, who comprise more than half of Edmonton’s homeless population.
He said Chinatown has been a “very vibrant community” for decades, but that “the shine and lustre has been gradually diminishing the past few years.”
“We see homelessness, we see food insecurity, we see health problems and we see the degradation of poverty,” he said. “But worst of all we see hopelessness, we see despair.”
The community was earlier at the center of the debate over the placement of Edmonton supervised consumption sites, which some Chinatown groups said were being added to core neighborhoods already overburdened with social services.
“When people talk about saving lives, we should be mindful that saving lives is more than just keeping people from dying,” Lee said. “If we truly want to save lives… we should give them hope, we should give them the expectations that things will be better tomorrow.”
Holly Mah, chairwoman of the Chinatown Business Association, said shopkeepers in Chinatown were already dealing with violence, including assaults and arsons, prior to the double-slaying.
“This is the reality that shopkeepers face,” she said. “The brutality of last week will be etched in their minds for a very long time, along with the… fear that they will suffer the same fate.”
She added that Chinese businesses have had to show “extraordinary” resilience through the COVID-19 pandemic, associated anti-Asian sentiment and “years of increasingly severe social disorder and violence.”
“I salute my fellow shopkeepers,” she added. “No matter what they have experienced, they remain compassionate.”
McFee said it is time to “move away from thinking ideologies (and) politics” to focus on “meaningful change.” The chief announced last week plans to reallocate police officers in response to the violence in the city core.
The latest concerns about Chinatown are taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly tense debate over police funding in the city.