By ELLEN ENDO
When Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer called for a roundtable discussion involving representatives of L.A.’s various Japanese American communities, he was prepared to hear about local crimes, but what he didn’t expect was a lesson in Japanese American cultural history.
During the meeting, held on Sept. 16 in Little Tokyo, Feuer learned that business/residential districts like Little Tokyo and Sawtelle Japantown grapple with many of the same issues — an encroaching homeless population, impeded traffic flow, limited parking, and car break-ins.
Frequently complicating matters, Feuer discovered, is a reluctance on the part of many JAs to file police reports when burglaries and robberies occur. The reasons are varied but often culturally based.
Dr. Jack Fujimoto, community leader in West Los Angeles’ Japantown, believes that enryo, a Japanese trait meaning “to hesitate” or “to exercise restraint,” is responsible for the community members’ reluctance to report crimes, ask for pothole repairs, or apply for the installation of improvements like speed bumps.
Brian Kito of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association says the enryo is rooted in history. He points to a long-standing and lingering mistrust of the government on the part of Japanese Americans. This stems, says Kito, from the way the United States government treated Japanese Americans during World War II.
During the discussion with Feuer, one participant reported that an LAPD officer actually encouraged enryo. The officer discouraged a worker at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple Obon Festival last summer from filing a police report after she found that her purse and laptop were missing from her parked car. The LAPD officer reasoned that since the woman couldn’t remember if she had locked the car, “It was probably your fault.”
Ted Oyama, representing Higashi, informed Feuer that two drug rehabilitation facilities are located directly across the street from the temple. Valuables occasionally go missing and enrollment in Higashi’s highly rated day care facility has been negatively impacted. Feuer promised to look into the matter.
In places where there are Japanese American enclaves such as the San Fernando Valley, Highland Park, and the Virgil area, illegal dumping is problem. Keeping neighborhoods and business districts free of trash is not only a persistent problem, but also a health issue, according to Frank Wada of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council.
Last year, Feuer strengthened his department’s Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, doubling the number of prosecutors to 16. Kurt Knecht is assigned to the LAPD’s Central Division, which includes Little Tokyo, while Veronica de la Cruz-Robles handles West Los Angeles and the Sawtelle Japantown through the Olympic Division.
“The homeless issue is a big one especially since we are adjacent to the Veterans Administration,” Fujimoto told The Rafu Shimpo. “The West Los Angeles-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council has made (homelessness) a priority because our streets are filled with many homeless and their baggage.”
Organized by the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District, Feuer’s roundtable discussion dealt with such topics as illegal dumping, the mentally ill, aggressive panhandlers, unsanitary conditions created by abandoned property, bicycle thefts, and the latest form of petty crime, stealing handicapped placards out of parked cars.
Invariably, the conversation circled back to the street dwellers. An estimated 23,000 are living on the streets, according to The Los Angeles Times. On Sept. 22, the City Council declared a state of emergency and earmarked $100 million to address the crisis.
The same day, Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled his plans for moving people off the streets, which includes building more housing.
Feuer advocated that the best first step toward addressing a problem is to “talk to your neighborhood prosecutor. Each of them knows the community and is there to help.
“Enforcing our way out of the problem is not going to work,” Feuer stated.