Mr. Councilman, I ‘m curious about your last name. Your last name doesn’t sound like an American name.
David: No, it’s not.
David is an American name. But, Oh is not. Have you ever been taunted (laugh at) in your childhood just because of your last name?
David: Of course.
How do you respond to that?
David: It’s been a long time. Let me say when I was a child, when I was a teenage, when I was a young adult, when I was a professional, when I was a lawyer…It’s a long time. As an Asian American born in Philadelphia and grow up in a non-Asian community — I grow up in a black community. I still live in an African American community. I live in a rough and poor neighborhood. It’s a common experience if you are Asian in America you will be laughed at. Sometimes, people like to pick on people. It’s a human nature, not a good nature, but that’s because they look at you from the outside. They make a judgment; sometime it’s a wrong judgment. They may try to make fun of you or laugh at you, but that doesn’t always work well for them. So, it depends how you respond.
That’s a very good answer. It also answers my 2nd question. My 2nd question is: are you a 1st generation Korean American? Or 2nd generation?
David: My father was born in China. He is a Korean, but you know Japanese occupied Korea. So, his father left Korea and into Manchuria. There he joined Chinese Wen Chun Independence movement against the Japanese.
Is that part of the Korean Independence movement?
David: It’s different. Well, the Korean independence movement started with the movement against the King of Korea; then it became the movement against the occupation of Japan; after Japan left Korea into China and pacific area it became yet a little bit different movement. Because they were Chinese and Korean, in part, it was the independence movement of Korea, but it was also an independence movement of China.
It’s a long history and your family has a long tradition as oversea Korean, not really living in Korean peninsula. So, when you grow up, have you seen yourself trapped in between two cultures?
David: Never. Let me say this. I see myself as me. I don’t see myself as fitting into like I must fit in as a Korean; I must fit in as American. I know many people struggle with their identity. My father was a pastor of a Presbyterian church. We grew up in an all black neighborhood. We didn’t live in a white neighborhood.
Why? May I ask? Do you choose to live in a black neighborhood?
David: My father chose to live there? You know, First, let’s be frank, you know, he came from the Korean war and he moved into a lower middle class white neighborhood, and it is before 1953. Asian immigrants could not become U.S. citizens until 1952. He came in 50, like the end of 52 and then 53. He was in Philadelphia, but he found a place he could move into. You know, the mostly the Asian immigrants. They’re not immigrants. They’re non immigrants, like foreign students exchange. They cannot work and not allowed to work, and so it’s very hard to be an immigrant. They came as students and other things.
So, you know, he was able to buy a building, a house in this neighborhood to make it a community center. He was studying at the time, and he came as a student. But then, after the murder of his nephew in Philadelphia, he ended up becoming a pastor, and but he started a church, and then he bought a building in southwest Philadelphia, which was a poor white neighborhood. But historically there is a thing called white flight. So when a black person moved in a neighborhood. They were moving out anyway so quickly, like in a few years, went from a white neighborhood to a black neighborhood. But he had already established his community center and his church, so he believed that this neighborhood that he started, his building and his church, was a blessed neighborhood. Blessed by God. He was a blessing he could buy a building, so he was committed to that neighborhood. I asked him many times, why do you live here? You know, because there was a lot of violence. There was gang violence and drug addiction. The kids would throw the stones and break the Windows of the church. You know, the Korean church, black kids. And you know, we had to deal with broken Windows, alarms of robbery, burglary, car theft, you know, so you know he would try to say something to me because I was a poor student with bad grades and a bad attitude, and I was getting suspended in fighting and he would tell me you’re a bad kid. And I would say I am a bad kid because I grew up in this neighborhood that you came to live.
So, it’s all your fault. (Laugh)
David: Your fault. (laugh) So you came from Korea. You couldn’t live in a nicer place in America? You have to live in the middle gang war, black gang, drugs, all that? But his point is, this a blessed neighborhood. Later, looking at his perspectives and his experiences, I understood later how much suffering they went through. You know, the Japanese occupation was very brutal. World war II, the Korean war, a lot of death. And then, in 1953, 1954, racism was normal. You could just say, Oh, you are Asian and you can’t eat here. You can’t live here. You can’t buy a house here. You can’t work here. They could simply say this to you. Oh, you are Asian. We don’t hire Asians because you can’t do a good job. They can just speak honestly. They may still think that, but they cannot say it, right? People are very clever. They learn not to say that, but, it doesn’t mean they don’t think it. So, you know, I remember we went to a trip and then we stop to get some food and they wouldn’t serve us because we’re Asian.
This is after the WW II. People cannot tell are you Japanese? Are you Vietnamese? They just didn’t like Asian, right? So anyway, is just normal. I am not saying it’s okay, but I am saying it’s not unusual. So he lived there and then later I believed that he is right. He would say, if every good person left this neighborhood, this would be a bad neighborhood. We have to be here, and he believed that he could give his testimony as a person, as an Asian American, by living in this neighborhood, keeping it clean, fixing it up. He just found a purpose in living in a bad neighborhood.
That’s very unique. Thank you for sharing that story.
David: Let me go back to your original question, because I think I forgot to say this. So because of that, you know, my father’s belief and my belief is God made you. God made me. Some people don’t believe in God. That’s OK. But I believe that God made each person uniquely and perfectly not the outside but the inside. So, we cannot hate another person, or we cannot judge another person. Therefore, when I was a child, I lived in a black neighborhood and I went to a Korean church. The Korean adults would say, do you think your Korean or American?
And they’d say, are you American or are you Korean? And I would say: I am David. (Laugh) They’d say, you’re Korean. You don’t speak Korean, that’s it. That’s correct. Yeah, shame on you. You don’t speak Korean. I would say, you know, I don’t speak Korean, but I am comfortable with who I am. I try to learn Korean. I am just not that smart. Some people would say we are Americans., we are not Koreans. I’d say, well, I am a Korean American, but I have a lot of perspectives, culture and understanding of being Asian. So, I ‘m American, but I am an Asian American.
I found a lot of people who I grew up with. They were kind of struggled. They felt I must choose to be white. They didn’t choose to be black. I choose to be White, or, I choose to be Korean. That is a very difficult, mentally very difficult for them. I think underneath it they want to be accepted. But they are, like, am I part of this group or this group? But I was felt I am not part of this. It’s not that I am part of this group. I am part of that group or no group. It doesn’t matter. Because, I am only responsible for myself. So I am just going to be me. If these people want to engage with me, great! If not, it’s okay. These people want to engage with me. Black, white, Latino, Asian, Chinese, Korean, it doesn’t really matter. So I will say I never actually had that kind of turmoil. But I know that that turmoil is very common.
I want to help them. I want to communicate with them, but I cannot because I have no understanding of what is bothering them. I simply can say that you are you. You can not be judged by someone else. You don’t speak Chinese. You don’t look this. Yes, you are you. There’s nothing to be apologetic. You know, David Oh, you are really short? Yes I am. There’s nothing wrong with it. Oh, you know, you’re you’re getting older. I am getting older. There’s nothing to be apologetic about anything. Some things are good. Some things are bad, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Mr. Councilman, the next question is: with your understanding, what is the biggest problem in the city of Philadelphia right now?
David: Right now, it’s a crime. Crime. Crime is the biggest problem. The reason is that if people are afraid to leave their house, if people are afraid to take their children to the park, people are afraid when their children get on a bus or go to school. If people are thinking about how dangerous their life is, they’re not thinking about their job, their future, their children. They’re thinking about leaving the city and people who don’t work in our city because of covid19 don’t want to come back and they don’t want to visit our city, have dinner here, go to a concert, do all the things that a big city offers, culture, art, sports. We have so many hotels and so many opportunities for them. We depend on tourism. But, when people see a news report, about 100 people, over 160 people murdered in the first part of this year, you know, 500 people murdered last year. They don’t want to come to this city. Who would come to this city when they see people being beaten, shot. They read the story of innocent children, women hit by a straight bullet. And when they looked at the attitudes of our city in allowing people to riot, loot, not prosecuting people. The police not allowed to arrest people. Look at a neighborhood like Kensington, where there are so many drug addicted people coming from all over this region buying drugs, prostituting, public urination and defecation. They wonder what kind of city is this? So we have to deal with crime first. Then, we have to open our economy because people will come here. People will work here. So covid19 is a big problem. But the biggest problem for us right now is murder.
David: I’m happy to sue the rotten city. Anyway，the city made a law that Asian stores have to take down their bulletproof glass. That’s another illegal law.
That one was passed and the mayor actually signed it.
David: Yeah, sure. Sure he did.
Why you still say it’s illegal?
David: It’s illegal because it’s against the law. I am a lawyer. You cannot make a law says you can’t have bulletproof glass and voted just to Asian stores. In the creation of the law, they didn’t say bulletproof glass is a problem. They said Asian storeowners are a problem. Bulletproof glass is there because they don’t want to have any contact with the black people. That’s what they said. That’s a testimony, right? So then they say we have to take down bulletproof glass in those stores. Not we have to take down bulletproof glass in those stores. Those stores are those stores, just the Asian stores. So, that makes it an illegal law. There was a famous case called Yick Wo case back in the 1800s.
David: They said the laundry could not be made of X, Y and Z, but they only applied it to the Chinese laundry. What that means is, I cannot say in order to come into my fancy restaurant you have to wear a suit or you cannot be let in. And then I let everybody in who doesn’t have a suit. Then you come up with a suit and I say you can’t come.
So, selectively targeting.
David: Selectively targeting. Like I said anyone with a winning ticket can win 1 million dollars except for you. You have a ticket. It’s the winning number. “Why not me?” You are Chinese. We don’t let you win.
But, they don’t say it.
David: No, they say it. Well, in another words, there are two ways it can be unconstitutional. One is you say: No black people can eat at this restaurant. So it’s constitutional, right? Or you can say, like, only good people can eat at this restaurant. But, you didn’t let 100 people in and 100 people were Chinese. That means either the law is vague, or, it is too broad. But in what you did, you hid behind the law to discriminate. So that’s also constitutionally illegal, and that’s very commonly known. That’s why the city settled in the federal court. They don’t want to fight that case.
The city settled. So, the city was basically saying: hey, stop fighting, I surrendered.
David: I surrendered. So, then we said you had to pay 265,000 dollars to these people.
To each one of these people?
David: Not each one. Total number. There is what? 26? 20? The problem is that there are a lot more people who could have gotten money from the city, but they didn’t want to be part of the lawsuit because they don’t want their name. They are afraid of the city, right? And the settlement gives them some money, not the money that they lost. Some-money. You know, the reason why it’s important to get the money because the city today says we did nothing wrong. So we settled, but we didn’t do anything wrong. So I said to the lawyers, you know, we are not settled unless they give money. It’s important they cause businesses to go out of business. They did this for 14 years. They took 2000 dollars each time form people. They have to pay back something. Or they will say: it’s not that we did wrong just when you don’t want to fight. No, we have to say: pay money. That is the process. So when people don’t know the law and they don’t know the rights, they don’t know that they were mistreated, you know, they’re ignorant. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Ignorant means don’t know. By the same token, if I give you a menu and I say you have three desserts, vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, you can choose one of three. On the other page is 15 other desserts, but I didn’t show that to you. So, you are choosing three out of 18, right? You don’t have the full information, so there is misinformation, lack of information. There’s all kind of ways people do not know that what was done to them was wrong if they don’t know. So, many Chinese takeout restaurant owners who were fined tens of thousands of dollars lost their business. They cannot understand how come the police come to me and shut me down at 11:00. But, this restaurant, they stay open. So they’re confused. But what happened is the police are following the instruction of someone who told them to go to this restaurant, even though that restaurant is not subject to this law, and closing them. Same thing was the bulletproof glass.
The government must be held accountable, but the government reflects people, when people, for example, when people want to treat other people badly, then the government is a reflection of them, like the Nazi Germany toward the Jews.
David: Majority opinion. That’s why white people can keep black people in poor places. That’s why the Japanese can get rid of the history book. Who is in power? So there has to be a law or a procedure or a process that is always fair whether you are weak, whether you’re an outcast. It has to be fair. You have to follow that process. That’s called due process, and that’s why there’s a constitution and laws. So the Chinese, for example, could not fight politically. They couldn’t vote, but they went to court to sue. This is back in the 1800s. So many of the Supreme Court cases that established civil rights was actually brought by Chinese people in the 1800. When people say, Asians and Chinese didn’t contribute to civil rights. That’s 100% wrong! It predates the African American civil rights movement. Chinese laid a lot of the law about civil rights in this country. Remember the first effort to keep people out of this country, and if you left, you could not come in, was the Chinese exclusion act. And then the other acts that discriminate against all of Asia, not just Chinese, not just Japanese. Anybody from Asia could not immigrant to this country.
So, the question is, that was okay with white people, was okay with black people, it was okay with everybody. But, it was OK to keeping out Asian people.
My next question is, what is your biggest achievement as a city councilman? Do you consider the resistance to bulletproof glass banning is one of your biggest achievements?
David: I think so. I mean, it’s very hard to answer that kind of question because it’s not like there’s a big thing, and the next big thing. It’s more like there’s a bunch of things. As a veteran I consider like creating a veterans tax credit. That means if you hire a returning veteran, then you save 5000 on your business taxes for three years. 15,000. So if you hire a veteran, you save 15,000. That helps hire veterans. It helps attract veterans. Veterans received a lot of training in the military, so we treat them well. They come here, create more employees, which means more employers want to stay here.
I am proud of a number of things you know that I have done. I never really remember the good things I’ve done. They’re done. I remember the good things I tried to do that didn’t get done because that’s what I want to get done. When people ask me what’s what’s the best thing you’ve done? I always have a hard time. When they ask me what are your biggest failures. I remember those because I am still working on them.
Well, actually, that’s why that’s the question. What is your biggest frustration?
David: My biggest frustration is that the government of this city and I am sure not just the city does illegal things. For example, the property taxes in the city are illegal, Illegal. It’s just illegal.
Why is it illegal?
David: Because the assessment of property, the methodology is below industry standard.
Let’s say that I would buy this cup of tea for 50 cents. Throw in the glass. I give you a dollar. You’ll buy it for a dollar. Somebody sees it. Everybody buy it for a dollar. The city says this is worth 50 dollars. It’s ridiculous, right? Then you have to pay 10% tax on 50 dollars. You’ve to give me 5 dollars tax. It’s ridiculous. It is Ten cents.
So, Mr. Councilman, in your opinion, the city government is overestimate the value of the property.
David: This is not just my opinion. The city Council hired an independent auditor. The audit come back that the methodology is below industry standard. That means it is unreliable. And then when you look at the complaints of people, you see some crappy little house. They say it’s worth 375,000 dollars. That’s ridiculous. You look at the picture. You look at one block. This house is the same house, the same land. They’re all different prices. And another thing is when they do the 10-year tax abatement. They say every house next to it went up in value from 150,000 to maybe 400,000. That’s illegal. Under the law, you cannot increase the value of the assessed value of the property because of a 10-year tax abatement. That’s the law. But this city right away, Oh, that house got invested. So your house… they commonly do that. They don’t even have the computer system to do what’s called a mass appraisal.
What causes that, Mr. councilman? I was very curious to see the Democrat has been controlled the city for last 50 years. And you are probably one of the two Republican city Council member. What causes that? Is that part of the issues just because we don’t really have that much competition in the city?
David: Well, maybe, and maybe not. I mean, the Republicans used to run the city up until about 1950, and they were very corrupt. Republicans were very corrupt. And then the Democrats came in, and in a short while they became very corrupt. Part of the problem is there’s only one party. I think two parties are important to balance each other. The other thing is the people. It doesn’t matter if they are Democrat or Republican. What matters is that they’re honest. Honesty is sometimes a kind of a tricky thing, right? In other words, someone wants to do good, and in order to do good, they push their will. They make laws like the Ordinance. They think it’s good. These Chinese take out restaurants. They are rotten. Or, the bulletproof glass’s bad. They have very subjective opinions. They are not willing to follow the rules. And, for example, someone says, Oh, look, during covid19 we shouldn’t evict people, so we’re gonna say nobody can be evicted. But the landlord can be also a poor person renting and they cannot get any income and the person can pay; they just don’t want to pay. They’ve been told you don’t have to pay, so why pay? So they’re not paying. The government is telling this person, this is your property, but you cannot collect the money you are owed, you cannot evict them. And this person, even if they can pay you, doesn’t have to pay you. So the government is controlling your property. Is that right? So we can understand during Covid we can do some emergency measure to help, but you cannot extend it and extend it. And you know. So we call that Machiavellian. Machiavellian means there’s an author of a book called <the prince>. What he said is a smart king doesn’t give his things.
I take your things and give it to somebody else. Here’s a present to you, but it’s not mine, right? That’s called Machiavelli. So Machiavellian means: You don’t have to pay rent, you don’t have to leave. But he is the one paying for it. Not me. I am forcing you, even though it’s your property, that you cannot control your property by the law. If you try to evict him, we will punish you. Maybe you will be fined and maybe you’ll be sued. So part of it is people think they’re doing good but they are not balanced. They have to be balanced.
So do you have some kind of solution to that?
David: Well, well, the first thing is, follow the law.
Even a bad law？
David: There should be no bad law. There are illegal laws. You have to get rid of the bad laws. There are laws that are legal that I don’t like, but they are legal. And there are laws that reflect the will of the people that I don’t agree with that they are legal, you know, people can make decisions. What you cannot do is make illegal laws.
David: People like me, a legislator and a lawyer, should know what is legal and illegal. So, for example, I cannot just make a law that you are not allowed to work in this place. Why? Because you’re Chinese, that’s an illegal law. Just the same as you cannot say you can close a Chinese takeout restaurant at 11 because they’re Chinese takeout restaurant. That’s illegal.
David: I cannot say you because you’re Asian must take down your bulletproof glass, but the white and black and other people can keep it up. That’s illegal. It’s clearly illegal. So there are many of the problems in the city, for example, when the district attorney, Larry Krasner, he says to someone, although you shot that man and crippled him with your AK 47; he is an Asian, beer deli owner, you’re a black. So we are going to treat you with leniency.
If he is here, if Krasner is sitting here, are you going to confront him?
David: I already had. I do it all the time. I tell him all the time. You look at the pattern. If it is one case that maybe not his fault. For example, he just announced 500 people who were caught looting stores. What is it to loot a store? First of all you, your store is closed because of Covid, or you close your store. I take something; I break your window; I come in and I start taking all your things out with 20 people. They all ran away, I got caught. He said, because of George Floyd or because of Walter Wallace Jr, what I did was because I was enraged about the civil rights. So, what I did was a good thing. So, when I stole the sneakers or the computer or the television or the washing machine, I was actually exercising the very important civil rights. So my point is this: How can he tell? In other words, that is not the role of the District Attorney to read these 500 criminals they did it for a good purpose. But these criminals did it. How can you tell? They all went into different places. When they break into someplace, let’s say you live upstairs. Do you shoot them? Do they kill you? Like, what happens? To break in a place is a great risk, and that is a problem. Same thing. When people blocked the highway, maybe you have to go to the hospital, maybe your children have to make it to someplace, maybe you’re going to a funeral, maybe you have to go to the bathroom, whatever it is. They have no right to go into the street. 300 people. If one person goes on the highway, I believe them. When 300 people blocked the highway, they are threatening you, threaten you! If you try to move forward, we’re going to smash your windows, we’ll pull you out and beat you to death. I say you can exercise your rights as long as they don’t violate my rights. I can exercise my rights as long as I don’t violate your rights. But, if I want to exercise civil disobedience, I want to go out in the middle of the road and get attention. Eventually I got to go. The road, there are many exits. You can go around it. You can take a while, but you can do it. Highway. You cannot get off the highway for miles and somebody might come out and shoot you. Somebody might run you over so the police must come, must come. They must come! They cannot avoid coming. Then this group wants to fight with the police. The police tell them to get off the road. They don’t want to get off the road. They throw tear gas. They move back, but they don’t get off the road, so the police will use more tear gas and they should leave.
David: When the people in the Washington, DC are storming the building, did they say, don’t use tear gas? No, they want to use tear gas. You cannot say, don’t use tear gas against us, but use it against them. No, either you use tear gas or you don’t.
The mayor is very subjective. He is saying we don’t want to use the tear gas against these people. We should not arrest them. The mayor says to the police: You cannot arrest all these people rioting. If you’re upset about George Floyd, that’s that’s understandable. If you want to yell and scream, that’s fine. But you start breaking windows and kicking out. Now you’re a criminal, and the mayor said they’re not criminals, he told the police you cannot arrest him, he said you have to give them a fine. And then the mayor says, I forgive all the fines, just like that. How about you forgive my fine, like, how do you distinguish, right? Same play with Larry Krasner, he say these people are criminals, but, then the ones who he doesn’t know what they did, he just 500 of them. I just will give them community service. Well, what about the businesses? They were looted three times that they lost their money, they lost their investment. Maybe they bought a gun. Maybe they never wanted to buy a gun. You know, the thing is, they say, like this, people’s rights are so important. But what about the store-owners and their families? Their rights or nothing? Most of the store owners are immigrants. A lot of them are Asian, and this is the problem. When the victims are Asian, they don’t care, you know, because they have an idea that the persons who are protesting if they’re white, they’re protesting for righteousness. If they’re black, they’re protesting for civil rights. But you as an immigrant, especially Asian store owner, you’re selfishly just about money. You’ve been making your money off of these people. You should be robbed. You should have your store burned. Your children should not go to school. So you understand what it feels like to be black. Now that’s ridiculous. Who’s making that kind of judgment? That is the mayor and Larry Krasner? Are they poor? Are they uneducated? Are they blackmailed or not? Are they poor Mexican or Chinese immigrant? They got health care; they got a pension; they got everything. So my point is, they’re very unfair people. You’re asking me, how does this happen? They have a very discriminatory idea.
David: Listen, outside of that, they’re good people. That means I am not perfect. I try to be aware when I say something critical about the mayor or about Larry Krasner. Look, Larry Krasner wants to do good things. The mayor wants to do good things. I may disagree with them on how to do those good things. There are some points where I completely oppose them. I oppose the property taxes. It’s completely illegal. You see when you raised the assessment value greater than it should be, if I am rich, I can pay it. I don’t want to pay it, but I can pay it. But if I am poor, I lose my house. And a lot of people who are being pushed out of their house under sheriff sales are poor black people. They said they want to help poor black people.
What about poor white people? They’re losing their houses too. How about poor Chinese people or Korean people? They’re only talking about poor black people, but they’re pushing them out of the house. They push them out of the house, then they give them some money. They push them out of the house and they say you can’t evict them. But first of all, you should assess the property accurately and fairly. See, the thing is, if this person’s house is worth 400,000 dollars, okay, you can sell it. You can get the money. But, if your house is worth 120,000 dollars and you got to pay taxes on a 400,000 dollars house and nobody is going to buy it and then at sheriff sale, you not even getting 120,000 for it. Nobody’s going to pay you 120,000 for 120,000 house. Maybe they’ll buy it for 30,000. So, that’s a problem. That’s the problem of gentrification. So the policies of the city are very problematic.