Mass Murder in San Francisco

by yifan zhang

Family Massacred in SF 

On March 23rd, 35-year-old Binh Thai Luc walked into an Ingleside house in San Francisco. When he left, he left five mutilated bodies: an elderly couple, their son Vincent Lei, their daughter Jess Lei, and Vincent’s girlfriend Chia Huei Chu. The deaths were not inflicted by gunshot wounds as initially suspected, but by blunt trauma from an edged weapon, most likely a machete. The victims, including the women and the elderly, were slashed half-to-death by a weapon sharp enough to cut through muscles and tissues but too crude to deliver a quicker end. This horrific crime illustrates a dark side of the Asian American community we are often too afraid to recognize. Our model minority stereotypes have no room for the violent deaths of an entire Chinese family.

A History of Violence:
Luc was originally born in Vietnam, but he later immigrated to the United States where he settled into a life of crime. He was sentenced in 1998 to 11 years and four months in San Quentin for the armed robbery of a Chinese restaurant in San Jose. He was considered for deportation, but the Vietnamese government refused to repatriate him. In 2006, the State of California released him.

The motive of the crime is currently under investigation, but seeing that the suspect is Vietnamese and all five of the victims were Chinese, the crime was probably not a family feud. His choice of weapon and number of victims indicated that he had very clear objectives and motivations. He did not haphazardly shoot random bullets at his victims but rather deliberately slashed all his victims to death with a machete. At this moment, investigators say that Luc was collecting a gambling debt.

Asian Gangsters:
This highlights an understated problem in the Asian American community: gang violence. Luc, who was reported to be affiliated with a Vietnamese street gang, employed a relatively common tactic among Asian American criminals where gang members barge into a home or small business, tie up the family members, and demand cash and valuables. They often torture, rape, and maim their victims until their demands are met. Luc took this tactic further by killing all his victims.
Asian immigrants who are the victims of such crimes are less likely to report to the police. Some are afraid of deportation while others are afraid that criminal activities will bring shame to the community. Asian families tend not to trust American law enforcement due to their prior experience with law enforcement in their home country or simply a language barrier. Because Asian gangs know many Asian American immigrant families will not report to the police, they target Asian families.

The Model Minority:
Yet, even though the Asian American community has problems with criminality, the model minority myth prevents both Asians and non-Asians from acknowledging it. Luc’s neighbors described the convicted felon as a “fine person, not a criminal.” A court reporter described him as “boyish-looking.” For some reason, people can’t grasp the fact that this man is capable of slaughtering a whole family. We have preconceived stereotypes of what a murderer looks like, and in this instance, the stereotype has blinded us from the reality.

What about the issues surrounding the victims? They might have been entangled with criminal elements in the Asian American community seeing that they had problems with gambling debts. But Jess Lei, a software engineer at Qualitative Medical Systems, was described by her employer as a “smart, quiet person,” so he knew something was wrong when she did not call in for her absence. No one would have suspected her family to be deep in debt with loan sharks and Asian gangsters. If others had found out about the family’s involvement with Asian gangs, they would have acted preemptively to prevent them from being the targets of a madman.

These stereotypes prevent policy makers and law enforcement from providing resources to stamp out criminality in the Asian American community. Families need to be informed and protected from gangs. Most importantly, open dialogue between law enforcement and the community must be maintained to prevent gangs from preying on families like the Leis. Everyone needs to stop burying their heads in the sand and stop crimes like this one before they happen.