Michael Chu: Mak­ing Flush­ing more liv­able BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By Xing Xudong In New York xingx­udong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The neigh­bor­hood watch team gath­ers at 8 pm ev­ery week night, and the group of 10 vol­un­teers pa­trols the down­town streets of Flush­ing, the largest ur­ban cen­ter in the New York City bor­ough of Queens and home to the city’s sec­ond-largest Chi­na­town.

The self- de­fense group sprung up from the rape and mur­der al­most four years ago of a 23-year-old Chi­nese, Yu Yao, who had been in New York City for only two months.

On the night of May 16, 2010, she walked into a road­side ar­gu­ment with Car­los Salazar Cruz, who po­lice said was drunk. He at­tacked her, smashed her face with a pipe, then dragged her into an al­ley and raped her. Se­cu­rity cam­era footage sug­gests at least seven passers-by ap­par­ently ig­nored her cries for help. Yao lin­gered in a coma for the next five days; on the sixth she was dis­con­nected from life­sup­port.

It was the “it-could-have­been-me” el­e­ment that pulled Tai­wan-born Chi­nese Michael Chu from his work at a travel agency to get in­volved in form­ing the neigh­bor­hood watch group.

“It was 9 pm. She was just there, scream­ing, but no­body gave her a hand. I was so an­gry. So we started pa­trolling the area one week af­ter the in­ci­dent,” Chu said.

Some 1,514 lo­cal vol­un­teers have signed up for the pa­trol ser­vice since it started on May 28, 2010. The cre­ation of the neigh­bor­hood watch group has been du­pli­cated else­where. A few weeks ago, a sim­i­lar one was started in an­other Chi­nese pop­u­lated area at 8th Av­enue in Brook­lyn.

“We want to make this com­mu­nity more liv­able. We want to en­cour­age people to do good things. I am glad to see that more people are aware of the fact that Chi­nese are easy tar­gets,” Chu said in an in­ter­view with China Daily.

The Flush­ing neigh­bor­hood watch team con­sists of a va­ri­ety of non-pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing su­per­mar­ket work­ers, taxi driv­ers, stu­dents and new ar­rivals, with 40 per­cent of them women, Chu said.

“We have uni­forms like these beige vests. When we see some­one in dan­ger or some­thing un­usual, we will just blow a whis­tle and call 911,’’ he ex­plained.

Apart from run­ning a travel agency busi­ness and a monthly news­pa­per, Chu’s role as a so­cial ad­vo­cate is rec­og­nized and he has be­come in­flu­en­tial in the Flush­ing Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

His ac­tiv­i­ties have ranged from cre­at­ing the watch group and help­ing a nanny col­lect her wages af­ter they were il­le­gally with­held by her em­ployer for more than a year to or­ga­niz­ing a lobby among res­i­dents to block the open­ing of a waste trans­fer cen­ter near Flush­ing.

Chu’s third-floor of­fice in down­town Flush­ing has be­come a head­quar­ters for free con­sul­ta­tions on do­mes­tic dis­putes.

“What I am do­ing is be­yond what lawyers can do. For ex­am­ple, lo­cal po­lice do take care of the crim­i­nals, but they don’t in­ter­vene with la­bor dis­putes and do­mes­tic dis­putes. For ex­am­ple, I don’t pro­vide people with food stamps or hous­ing; but in­stead I tell them where to get them and how they can get them,” Chu said. In 2007, the death of a 70-day-old in­fant born to Chi­nese im­mi­grants liv­ing in Queens, New York, drew his at­ten­tion.

The New York Times first re­ported that the baby suf­fered from a frac­tured skull, brain and eye in­juries, two bro­ken legs and a frac­tured rib. Law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions sug­gested the death was “homi­cide by shak­ing and a blunt im­pact to the head,” which led to her par­ents, 27-year-old Li Hang­bin and 26-year-old Li Ying, go­ing to prison. The case trig­gered a de­bate on the hard-to-spot signs of shaken baby syn­drome and the role of doc­tors in de­ci­pher­ing them.

Af­ter the Chi­nese im­mi­grant cou­ple was charged with their daugh­ter’s death, Chu said they had be­come vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets of the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem.

He said the cou­ple called him from prison. “They were nice, young people, not killers, not in­sane,” Chu said. “And so I made up my mind. I had faith that they were in­no­cent.”

By reach­ing out to ex­perts on shaken baby syn­drome across the coun­try, and com­pil­ing a med­i­cal his­tory of the Li fam­ily, Chu was able to call at­ten­tion to a ge­netic con­di­tion called “os­teo­ge­n­e­sis im­per­fect’’. He even helped raise more than $50,000 that went to­ward le­gal fees and bail. How­ever, in early 2013, the child’s fa­ther was sen­tenced to a max­i­mum of 15 years in prison. His wife, who had a sec­ond child af­ter the in­ci­dent, is on pa­role.

“It is cer­tainly dis­ap­point­ing,” said Chu, who main­tains that Li would do noth­ing to harm his baby.

Chu said that Li turned down sev­eral plea deals from the district at­tor­ney be­fore go­ing to trial, and that his de­fense was out-matched by the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice, which had a cadre of lawyers on the case and a suc­ces­sion of med­i­cal wit­nesses. “It is re­ally un­fair,” Chu said. Chu’s work to help Flush­ing’s Chi­nese com­mu­nity has grown.

His of­fice walls are cov­ered with news­pa­per clip­pings and “thank you’’ flags from cases in which he played a vi­tal rule. Lo­cal re­porters from Chi­nese me­dia also like to hang out in his of­fice.

“Re­porters come here not only for cof­fee or wa­ter, they come here for story ideas. Ev­ery­one who walks into my


Team leader, Flush­ing Neigh­bor­hood Watch Team

Age: 62

Born: Chi­nese Taipei • MA, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, Univer­sity of Hawaii (1978) • Pub­lisher, Asian Amer­i­can

Times (1987-present) • Pres­i­dent, Asian Amer­i­can Global Travel (1992-present) • Chair­man, New York Coun­cil of Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion (2009-2011) • Team leader, Flush­ing Neigh­bor­hood Watch Team (2010-present) of­fice has some­thing to tell. I also or­ga­nize a weekly news con­fer­ence here,” Chu said while ges­tur­ing to the spare desks where the re­porters set up base.

Though de­scribed as “elected” among “the ma­jor of the new ar­rivals” in Flush­ing by the New York Times ear­lier this year, Chu said he doesn’t in­tend to go into pol­i­tics.

And when it comes to the pos­si­bil­ity of dan­ger he could face for be­ing such a com­mu­nity ac­tivist in Flush­ing, Chu says, “I have been very cau­tious. When I am alone, I have to lock the door. Ac­tu­ally I am think­ing about buy­ing a bul­let-proof jacket.”

Scan it!


Michael Chu, who runs a travel agency, has as­sem­bled a team of vol­un­teers to pa­trol Flush­ing in New York ev­ery week night.

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