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Boston’s Chinatown Battles Pornographic Neighbors

October 9, 1985

BOSTON (AP) _ Residents of the city’s Chinatown say that because Boston’s red-light district was relocated 11 years ago, into an adjacent neighborhood, it can be moved again.

Armed with cameras, a score of Chinatown denizens took to the streets early Sunday, filming women they accused of soliciting sex, as part of an effort to drive out the X-rated trade spilling onto their streets.

″They flashed lights in my face and yelled ‘She’s a hooker’ and started filming,″ said Marlene, a self-described hustler.

But prostitutes like Marlene say they go into Chinatown because much of their own territory, the X-rated district known as the Combat Zone, has been swallowed up by Asian businesses.

″This is ours,″ Marlene said, pointing to pornographic bookshops and movie theaters sprinkled among Asian restaurants and shops on Beech Street. ″Why should they take it all away?″

Named for fights among soldiers and sailors who frequented houses there, the Combat Zone became the center of the Boston sex trade in the early 1960s, replacing Scollay Square, which was razed to make way for an urban renewal project.

The Combat Zone became Boston’s official red-light district in 1974, when the city zoned six blocks for adult entertainment to keep prostitutes out of high-priced neighborhoods.

The Asian community, which has lived nearby since the turn of the century, was powerless to stop the action, said Suzanne Lee, who helped organize Sunday’s videotaping.

Not until last month, when a Boston vice detective was suspended for using excessive force against a Chinese immigrant, did Chinatown feel strong enough take on the Combat Zone, she said.

Detective Francis G. Kelly Jr. said he hit Long Kuang Huang because the immmigrant resisted arrest on suspicion of soliciting prostitute Audrey Manns. Huang was later acquitted.

″The Huang case was the last straw,″ said Marilyn Lee-Tom, a Chinese native who represents Chinatown’s interests at City Hall. ″It wouldn’t have happened if Manns wasn’t doing business in the area.

″I understand they have to have an area like this, but put it somewhere else, not near an area where people live,″ Ms. Lee said. ″If they moved it 10 years ago, they can move it again.″

Young Asian Americans say Mayor Raymond Flynn is to blame for taking little action against prostitutes, but Flynn’s press secretary, Frank Costello, said police had stepped up arrests in Chinatown.

Ms. Manns has not returned to Chinatown since Huang’s arrest, her friends say, and Asian leaders began plotting ways of driving out the rest of the sex trade. The mission was not simply to clean up the streets; the neighorhood needed space.

″Every day refugees come in, there are new immigrants,″ said Yuk Sung, a director at the Chinese Economic Development Council, who said Chinatown’s five blocks have reached saturation. ″All our English-as-second-lan guage classes are overfilled.″

Bounded on three sides by an expressway, Tufts University and the downtown shopping district, Chinatown can expand in only one direction: toward the Combat Zone.

Since 1974, the zone has shrunk from six blocks to two as Asians have slowly moved in.

Marlene said Chinatown restaurants have refused to serve her and Asian police have growled at her to keep off their streets, but there have been no violent confrontations.

″They’re a chicken-hearted bunch,″ she said.

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