Oakland police chief urges Chinatown residents not to arm themselves

"When weapons are fired in our community, there could be unintended victims," said Armstrong Tuesday afternoon. "We don't want our business owners or others to begin to arm themselves. We would really prefer them to be good witnesses."
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong is urging residents not to arm themselves, after a resident opened fire on a robbery suspect Monday night in Chinatown.

"When weapons are fired in our community, there could be unintended victims," said Armstrong Tuesday afternoon. "We don't want our business owners or others to begin to arm themselves. We would really prefer them to be good witnesses."

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According to police, a woman was walking near 9th Street and Franklin Street around 6 p.m. Monday when she was approached by a suspect who attempted to take her camera.

During the struggle, investigators said a nearby resident came up and fired several rounds toward the suspect.

No one was hit, but when police arrived, the man with the gun was arrested while the robbery suspect got away.

"We just want to reassure the community that we're doing a thorough job of investigating what happened last night," said Chief Armstrong, adding "the District Attorney will determine whether charges are appropriate or not."

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In California, defending yourself or someone else with a gun is legal, though there is some gray area.

"There is no bright line rule," said defense attorney Elliot Silver. "It's case by case. That's why many of these situations end up in front of a jury."

He says juries are told to look for three things. First, whether a person was in imminent danger. Second, if the force was necessary. And third, if the force was equal to the danger they were in.

"The question is, what would a reasonable person do if they were put in that situation?" said Elliot.

The attempted robbery in Chinatown was the latest in a string of recent crimes in the neighborhood.

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"Everybody's scared out of their jackets right now," said resident Nancy Tan.

The police presence on Tuesday afternoon was clearly visible, with patrol cars and beat cops roaming the streets.

She agreed with Chief Armstrong that guns are not the answer, though she understood why someone might resort to that.

"He's just one example of people that are just frustrated. They want to take the law into their own hands," she said of the person who fired his weapon at the attempted robbery suspect.

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Tan said, she noticed crime in the area started to intensify about a year ago.

"It's partially racism, partially profiling because Asians tend to carry more cash, so we make for a better, riper victim," she explained.

It's had wide reaching consequences, not just for individual victims but for the neighborhood at large. She said in addition to loss of business from the pandemic, her hair dresser has seen a drop in clients because of the crime.

"Her customers are afraid to come here, they're afraid because of this," she said, gesturing to where the attempted robbery took place Monday night.

Her message to would-be criminals was simple:

"Hey thieves, lay off. Give us a break!"

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