A group of young bullies are wreaking havoc on a stretch of Bay Parkway between 60th Street and 86th Street, apparently singling out and terrorizing Chinese-owned shops, according to a police report filed by 13 Bay Parkway business owners.
The kids — who storeowners say often run in packs of five or six and range in age from 13 to 17 — antagonize merchants and customers by pickpocketing, smoking in stores, throwing merchandise on the floor, shoplifting, and destroying property after school hours each day, the Chinese daily newspaper Sing Tao first reported.
“They come in and grab everything they want three or four times a day,” said May Lee, the owner of SYJ Trading, a dry goods store at 6914 Bay Parkway. “It’s terrible. We have to lock the door and customers think it’s strange.”
Storeowners told us police have been called many times, but either the cops don’t show up, or they arrive after the kids have already bolted.
Occasionally, the altercations turn violent. Cheng Hua Yin, who owns a second-floor nail salon on Bay Parkway and 67th Street, said that he has had recurring problems with kids smoking marijuana at the entrance of his store and urinating on the stairs since last summer, but the police never showed up, so he stopped calling them.
Then, on April 19, when he went downstairs to shoo a small mob away, Yin said one youth cursed at him and punched him in the face, leaving him with a nasty bruise under his eye.
“I’m afraid because I got hurt, and also for my business. When the kids are on the stairs, the customers won’t come in here,” said Yin.
Police sources said that, based on surveillance footage — which includes a photo of the troublemakers tagging a storefront with graffiti in broad daylight — they could not identify the teens, guess their ages, or speculate which school they attend. However, the NYPD’s 62nd Precinct has increased the number of uniformed and plain clothes officers patrolling that stretch of Bay Parkway between 2pm and 6pm.
Captain William Taylor, the precinct’s commanding officer, told Bensonhurst Bean he is confident the kids will be caught within the next few days and that he is planning to meet with the merchants on Wednesday to glean more information about the incidents.
“Just as we won’t tolerate burglars and robbers, we will not tolerate any harassment of our business owners or any citizen of Bensonhurst,” said Taylor.
While the Sing Tao article suggests demographic changes and ethnic tension are a factor, Taylor said he is not currently treating the incidents as bias crimes.
“I wouldn’t speculate on that until I had whoever it was in here and I actually questioned them,” said Taylor. “It could just be an issue of convenience, because it’s a strip of stores that just happened to be there.”
In the meantime, some store owners have installed electronic locks — though they say the kids persistently try to gain entry by following other customers inside, or by breaking open the locks with a knife.
“They knock on my window and put a middle finger to me and I don’t do nothing. Then they ring my door bell nonstop,” said Katherine Man, who owns a dry cleaner at 6815 Bay Parkway. “Only when I pretend I am taking a picture, they run away.”
Man said two boys who often harass her at the store look “very young” and that she doesn’t think they are bad kids.
“I think they are fooling around. They need guidance,” she said.
Councilman David Greenfield, whose district includes the stretch of Bay Parkway near Seth Low Junior High School, condemned the behavior of the teens today.
“Discrimination against anyone is unacceptable. However, this discrimination against hard-working Chinese-American owned businesses is even more reprehensible,” said the councilman. “Local businesses are the backbone of our community. We are fortunate to have hard-working people come here from around the globe to improve their lives and our communities.”
Update [3:43pm]: Councilman Mark Treyger expressed a similar sentiment, adding that he anticipates Wednesday’s meeting — which will have translators — will help break down some of the cultural and language barriers between local merchants and law enforcement.
“This is very concerning to me. We seem to be hearing about a pattern which extends beyond Bay Parkway and onto 86th Street. I plan to work closely with my colleagues Councilman Greenfield and Assemblyman Colton, our local police precincts, and local businesses to identify a pattern and find out why this is,” said Treyger. “This affects all merchants, because a threat to one business is a threat to all of the businesses.”