Community / Chinatown recently made headlines again about street crime. On Monday, Oct. 22, someone broke in through Downbeat Diner & Lounge’s roof, shimmied down the chimney, climbed through the grill’s exhaust vent and proceeded to tear out the security cameras and steal the safe, a hand truck (presumably for the safe) and some liquor. Sure, it’s a $20,000 bummer, but Downbeat owners Josh86 and Serena Hashimoto have a surprising takeaway. Diverging from those sounding the trumpet for making Chinatown a better place, theirs is a viewpoint that aims to accept Chinatown–warts and all.
Hashimoto says that she focuses on embracing Chinatown as is. “I love my life, I love my business. I love teaching [at Hawaii Pacific University] downtown; I live downtown. My teenage daughter works at Downbeat with me and I’m totally fine with that. How much do I really want to change [Chinatown], when it’s something that I love?”
Not that getting robbed is something that she particularly loves. Neither is the police presence–something Josh86 agrees is a frustrating factor of running a business in Chinatown. The owners’ gripe is that, despite the blatant and sometimes obvious daylight, non-violent crime (drug deals and petty thefts) that takes place around Downbeat and other Chinatown businesses, there is a minimum police presence.
“I’ve accepted [instances like this] as another part of doing business in Chinatown,” says Josh86. “I think you can’t have one and not the other . . . But it’s like HPD’s job is to come out here, make a report, document, repeat. It’s just archiving.”
Regarding the Honolulu Police Department’s (HPD) response to the Downbeat burglary, Hashimoto says, “I almost feel like the part that bothered me the most out of it is the lack of honesty. At least tell me that you’ve decided, as a group [of cops], that that’s your stance. Not this sort of half-step lie [that you care]. If there’s a mandate for the cops in Chinatown, I honestly believe it’s to do as little as possible.”
Josh86 wonders why this scene is less-policed than, say, more touristy areas. “I would like to see an area where there’s local art, local music, a local scene thriving, and see that area better policed. You know, a cop walking a beat. That would be great to see,” says Josh86. “In Waikiki, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a cop car.” It begs the question: Are local patrons and small businesses less valuable, less worthy of protection?
Asked for comment, Michelle Yu, spokesperson for the City and County of Honolulu Police Department, didn’t acknowledge a problem. Police apathy is “not the case . . . They have assigned uniformed and plainsclothes officers . . . They’re very aware of the problems,” Yu said. She added that it’s hard to balance the needs of the different areas. “This district also includes downtown [Honolulu], not just Chinatown,” Yu pointed out. “It is a challenge, and [HPD is] always looking at assessing the needs of neighborhoods and communities.”
It seems that Josh86 isn’t worried as much about the investigation or the broken roof as he is about the bigger reputation of Chinatown, a district that just can’t seem to catch a break. He points out that while Chinatown is regularly on the receiving end of bad press, it is still ultimately a safe choice to visit. “Whether you want to come out for a drink, see some art, buy a one-of-a-kind, locally designed organic shirt or get some homemade cheesecake, Chinatown is perfectly safe for all of those things . . . I think it’s an awesomely safe place for a pedestrian.”
As a result of the break-in at Downbeat, the community has rallied together to support the bar. Hanks Cafe and SoHo Mixed Media Bar have offered to help on Downbeat’s reconstruction, and Hallowbaloo offered Downbeat a free booth to serve food at the Hallowbaloo festival, before the snooze-nami didn’t hit. “The community is tight and solid; no matter whatever infighting happens sometimes, when something like this happens, everyone’s down to help,” Josh86 says. “I don’t like crime to be the focus of what Chinatown is.”
He appears to take the robbery in stride, with a sort of bitter acceptance. “I think there’s an underbelly [of crime], for sure,” he says. “After ten years of walking around, you see it. But it’s a part of the city, I guess. It’s a fact of working in the city. But I don’t have the energy to try and fight it. That’s not my job.”
Crime fits a stereotype for Chinatown, and is unfortunately a magnet for the continued type of coverage that’s easy to report. Another crime in Chinatown? Is that even news? Josh says it’s no different elsewhere. “It seems like anytime I go into Waikiki, I see somebody getting into a fight, but 10,000 people come down here on First Fridays and I’ve never seen one fight.”
In a time when you can get stabbed at Ala Moana mall or groped pretty much anywhere on campus at UH Manoa, is Chinatown really any worse than the rest of the island? Hashimoto looks at it this way: “From acceptance, all sorts of amazing things can flow.” After all, isn’t acceptance the final stage of grief?