Wednesday’s were more than a celebratory occasions. For the several Vietnamese-Americans attending the trials of six people accused of illegal gambling, it was a sign of change.
It was a moral victory in their eyes, one that made them feel equal to their American-born counterparts. Since the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force raided the on Aug. 11 looking for illegal gambling machines operated by the alleged “Dragon Family” gang, the Vietnamese-American community in the area has felt labeled as gang members.
“They say they busted a gang,” said Thinh Nguyen who owns a cell phone store in the Eden Center. “I haven’t heard anything about a gang.”
Since the August raid, Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington, D.C. President Binh Nguyen said business in the Eden Center has dropped. He said patrons are afraid to come to the center for fear of being arrested or harassed by police. Nguyen said some media reports have made local Vietnamese-Americans feel labeled as gang members. He said it’s unfortunate and the stereotype is something the VACOC-DC is working to fix. The task force alleged on businesses at the Eden Center. The task force arrested 19 people during the raid.
Dozens of Vietnamese-Americans gathered outside City Hall in the City of Falls Church Wednesday morning as six people awaited their fates on illegal gambling charges. Inside, one Eden Center shop owner pleaded guilty to having fireworks in his store and Jack Hoang, a patron the day of the raid, was acquitted of the illegal gambling charge. District Court Judge Thomas Kelley, Jr. said there was not enough evidence to convict Hoang and subsequently dismissed the four remaining cases of the day stemming from the raid with the understanding the cases can be retried if more evidence is produced.
Several Hoang supporters cheered inside the court and were removed by court bailiffs for the loud outbursts. Outside, the Vietnamese-Americans shouted, screamed and embraced in celebration of their progress in obtaining equal rights.
“The reason Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died is for all of us to have equal rights,” Nguyen said.
Due H. Tran, attorney for Hoang and the other five alleged suspects who appeared in court Wednesday, said there have been several instances when City of Falls Church police have patrolled the Eden Center and have allegedly gotten into altercations with merchants and patrons because of language barriers. Tran said several of the shop owners and customers at the center, like Hoang, speak very little English.
Mary Gavin, deputy chief of the city’s police force, said no official complaints have been made against the police from anyone at the Eden Center. She also said City of Falls Church police go through mandatory cultural diversity training every other year.
“We’re going to have dialogue with City Council,” Tran said. “We want the Eden Center to be a thriving, cultural fixture in Falls Church.”