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Chinese American community holds large anti-violence rally in Center City Philadelphia

With some carrying signs that read "Stop Armed Robberies in our Community," about 700 members of the Chinese American communities in Philadelphia, the suburbs, New Jersey, New York and Delaware rallied and marched in Center City on Saturday.

Speakers decried violence against the Chinese American community - in particular, dozens of recent armed robberies of business owners in the city. They also protested the rapper YG, who has a song and video with lyrics about scoping out homes in Chinese neighborhoods to commit burglaries. The rapper was scheduled to hold a concert Saturday night at the Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St.

His song, "Meet the Flockers," sparked a protest in Maryland Wednesday night. A White House petition has also been created asking for a ban on the song.

Speakers at Saturday's rally - at Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall - included leaders in the Chinese American community here as well as others. Rally organizer Steven Zhu, president of the Greater Philadelphia Fujian Association and general secretary of the Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association, said beforehand that the rally and march had two main purposes.

One was to protest YG.

The second was to ask police to take even low-level crimes against Chinese business owners more seriously so that such crimes don't escalate into bigger crimes - and for police to ramp up patrols around Asian-owned businesses.

City Councilman David Oh, who is Korean American, told the hundreds gathered at the plaza next to the Municipal Services Building that he has called for an Oct. 31 Council hearing on crimes of violence that target Chinese business owners, particularly restaurant owners.

He said he expects members of the FBI, the District Attorney's Office, police and other community leaders to attend "to see how our government is addressing this problem."

The Rev. Robert Shine, of Berachah Baptist Church on Limekiln Pike in East Germantown, told participants that he recognized that many crimes committed against the Asian American community have been committed by people of the African American community.

Shine, 77, who is African American, said he stood in support of his Asian American colleagues. "All of us together, in the city of Philadelphia, must stand arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand to oppose any act of violence," he said.

He condemned the "reprehensible music," the "hardcore rap music that advocates violence."

After Shine spoke, Han Pan, a spokesman for the National Council of Chinese Americans, linked arms with Shine at the podium and spoke to the crowd in Chinese about the attacks on the Chinese American community.

Afterward, Pan, 51, of Horsham, said he expected some people to protest outside YG's concert at the TLA Saturday night.

"Crime targeting one particular race is not right," he said.

Police Capt. John Ryan, of the Sixth District in Chinatown, said to the crowd: "We're here for you." He then marched with the protesters as they made their way around City Hall, down Broad, east on Locust, north on Seventh, before turning west on Arch.

As they marched, the anti-violence protesters shouted: "No more violence!," "We want safety!" and "Shame on YG!"

The Philadelphia Police Department, as it normally does at city marches, escorted the marchers through the city's streets.

The march ended at 10th and Arch Streets, in the heart of Chinatown. There, City Councilman Mark Squilla, whose First District includes Chinatown, was handed a megaphone and told the Chinese Americans in the crowd: "Everyone has the right to feel safe in their community and in their businesses."

Squilla, dressed in a white La Salle University T-shirt, blue athletic pants and white sneakers,  urged business owners to install surveillance cameras for their safety. The city's Commerce Department has a program that reimburses eligible business owners with part of the costs to obtain and install security cameras.

Robberies and home invasions targeting Asian American business owners in the city are not new, but have recently gained renewed attention following a spurt of home invasion-robberies this past summer.

In July and August, Zhu said, there was a rash of home invasion-robberies of Chinese business owners. During one month, 12 families were robbed, he said.

In 2016, he said, more than 100 Chinese American families or small businesses in Philadelphia have been victims of armed robberies.

A regional task force of law-enforcement authorities has over the years met with members of the Asian American business community in Philadelphia to provide safety pointers. Just last month, police and District Attorney Seth Williams met with members of the Asian American community in Chinatown to address safety concerns.

In August, two West Philadelphia men, Anthony Campbell, now 34, and Norman Bowen, 29, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of robbery, burglary, conspiracy, and related offenses in connection with at least eight cases between May 8 and Aug. 8. In one, they are accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl during a robbery in Logan. The pair remain in custody and face trial.