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Archive for Friday, June 1, 2001

Language barrier hinders fight against Asian gangs

June 1, 2001

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— The state's largest city is seeing an increase in gang-related crimes within its Asian community, police said, and language and cultural barriers make fighting those crimes even more difficult.

Of Wichita's seven homicides this year, police say two are tied to Asian gangs. That has made Police Lt. John Speer determined to focus his police gang unit on stopping those gangs.

"We're going to be after them," Speer said. "We're not going to tolerate this stuff."

In the most recent killing, 20-year-old Chanh Chanthivong was shot to death last Friday at a home he was visiting. Police have arrested two suspects, both of whom they said are known gang members.

Chanthivong, whose family is originally from Laos, moved to the United States from Thailand in 1998. He was not a gang member, family members said.

Speer and Lt. Ken Landwehr, who heads the investigation of Chanthivong's death, said the case bears two marks often left by Asian gangs fear and silence.

For example, Landwehr said, no one reported a drive-by shooting at the same residence where Chanthivong was shot. The drive-by shooting came just a few hours before the fatal shooting, he said, and one of the two suspects in Chanthivong's death is also suspected in the drive-by.

Police rapidly respond to drive-by shootings, Landwehr said, and had the incident been reported, he said, Chanthivong's death might have been prevented.

Mohan Kambampati, director of the Wichita Indochinese Center, said most Asian cultures share a fear of retaliation if they report a crime and also share the belief that police will not protect them.

Asians can be easy prey, Kambampati said, because they often keep money at home.

Chanthivong's sister said the attackers might have been trying to rob his twin brother, who was carrying a large amount of cash because he planned to go on a trip.

Police said, however, that robbery did not appear to be a motive.

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