From 1975 to 1979 the Cambodian people were subject to a government gone mad, the Angkar government of the Khmer Rouge. Millions died in this holocaust. The madness especially targeted all professionals, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese. Cambodian Buddhist, Muslims, and Christians were also persecuted. This reign of terror ended in the invasion of Cambodia by the army of Vietnam in 1979.
Fleeing both the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese soldiers, many of the Cambodians found refuge in the United States. A small community settled in the Long Beach area of California calling their new home "Little Phnom Penh." However, like every other immigrant culture before them, the Cambodians experienced resentment and victimization by other Americanized immigrant cultures who settled there before them.
The children of these killing field survivors attended Long Beach public schools dominated by the local Hispanic street gangs. Like the 18th Street gang, the Long Beach "Longo" gang had grown so large that it had split into rival East Side and West Side Longo factions. In 1981, after repeated assaults by East Side Longo gang members, several youthful Cambodian immigrants formed the Tiny Rascal Gangsters (TRG) gang.
TRG imitated the surrounding street gang dress, gang slang, gang graffiti, gang tattoos, and gang violence. But unlike the surrounding gangs, TRG originally did not profit from traditional gang crimes, but instead honed the one skill of vendetta to a fine point. The gang quickly grew and was followed by the formation of the Asian Boyz. Both these gangs began recruiting not only Cambodians but other victims of the dominate Hispanic gangs; Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, and even whites and African Americans were jumped into TRG.
By October 1985, the TRG was on the offensive. The gang turf claimed by both gangs along Anaheim Street near the heart of Long Beach became the new killing field. A car load of TRG gang members pulled up to a car full of East Side Longo gangsters at Anaheim Street and Cherry Avenue. First the occupants of both cars traded insults and hand signs, and then TRG fired into the Longo car killing a 16-year-old Oswaldo Carbajal.
Numerous shootings followed. Assaults by one were followed by "payback" retaliations by the other gang. Neither gang would back down. The vendetta continued for several years. Local Long Beach Insane Crips and others aligned themselves with TRG against the East Side Longo gang.
In the 1990s the Mexican Mafia ordered West Side Longo to put aside its rivalry with East Side and support their former rivals against TRG and the black gangs. We began to see Mexican Mafia "green light" or hit lists with the TRG gang featured at the top. Soon all Southern Hispanic or Sureño gangs were at war with the Tiny Rascal Gang.
But instead of capitulating, the TRG came back stronger and grew in numbers and reputation as one of the largest and most violent gangs in the U.S. The TRG even produced its own training manual for its gang members on how to fight a gang war. They were armed with some of the most sophisticated weaponry and were able to call in reinforcements from other Los Angeles Asian gangs and from gangs as far away as Seattle and Tacoma.
On one lazy Sunday, June 22, 2003, a part time Long Beach City community outreach gang worker and TRG member was having a barbecue at his home on Orange Street. Several TRG gang members were attending the party.
At about 8 or 9 pm, Melvin Jones, one of 3 or 4 African American members of the TRG gang, left the party and walked with two other youth to a nearby residence where they retrieved a semi-automatic handgun.
As the TRG-affiliated group walked back to the party, several male Hispanics in a white Saturn drove by. A short time later another white car drove by and pulled into a driveway in front of them, apparently to turn around. Fearing that the occupants were Hispanic gang members and possibly members of the East Side Longo gang, Jones and a fellow gang member fired directly into the front windshield of the white car.
This was not a car full of Mexican Mafia assassins, Longo gang members or other Sureño allies. It was an innocent young mother driving to the laundromat with her son. The driver of the white car, Patricia Miller, was fatally wounded and her 12-year-old son Michael was seriously wounded in the left shoulder.
The TRG shooters ran back to the barbecue on Orange Street then changed their clothing in the gang worker's garage. Melvin Jones gave the murder weapon to the gang worker saying that he had just, "shot an Ese." The gang worker hid the Hi-Point 9mm gun and a second pistol in a laundry basket in his closet.
Dispatched to the shooting, Officer Randy Mohagen of the Long Beach Police Department walked from the crime scene with a witness to the Orange Street apartments. He found a black sweatshirt, a grey "do-rag," a black cap, and a bag of potato chips under the clothing in the garage.
The clothing matched the description given by witnesses of one of the shooters and subsequent testing showed fingerprints on the potato chip bag and DNA from the sweatshirt belonged to TRG gang member Melvin Jones.
The following day Long Beach City community outreach gang worker and TRG member, the gang worker, accompanied by his attorney, showed up at the Long Beach police station. He told the police about what he had observed and about Jones' statement that he had "shot an Ese."
Police recovered the guns from the laundry basket in the gang worker's closet. The gun given to him by Jones matched the bullets recovered from both Michael Miller and his mother.
Melvin Jones was convicted of second degree murder, attempt murder, assault with a semi-automatic firearm and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
Like so many of the child victims of Cambodia's killing fields, Michael Miller for the rest of his life must endure the senseless loss of his mother as just so much more collateral damage.
Gang wars are an equal opportunity exploiter, perverting the cultures and robbing the souls of all the African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and whites involved in it.