It started as a peaceful protest in front of the Monterey Park Police Station. Pro-Chinese government residents were conducting a flag ceremony to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Members of the West American Chapter of the China Democracy Party — a political party banned in China that advocates for prosperity, freedom, and human rights — and the religious group Falun Gong were protesting for the release of political prisoners in the mainland.
Chinese political tensions then played out in the San Gabriel Valley. Fenglin Jiang, a member of China Democracy Party, was arrested on charges of resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer, according to the Monterey Park Police Department. When Chester Chong — a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and president of the L.A. Chinese Chamber of Commerce — assisted in the arrest, accusations flew that he was a vigilante and Communist spy for the Chinese government.
Although a reserve deputy has the same powers of arrest as full-time officers, protesters wondered why Chong, who was in charge of security and not on-duty that day, gave handcuffs to the Monterey Park police officers. They also said Chong was wearing a belt buckle resembling the emblem of the Communist Party of China police force and suspected a connection.
Chong spoke to Alhambra Source about the allegations, his role as reserve deputy for the Sheriff’s Department, and how facilitating cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China for the department has made him anything but a spy.
Can you explain your role during the flag ceremony?
I’m one of the organizers; they assigned me to be security. I am police, too, but there are also other cops because Monterey Park is a different jurisdiction. So unless it’s an emergency, I don’t need to prove that I’m a cop.
Tell us about the arrest of Fenglin Jiang, a member of China Democracy Party.
I talked to a protester. I tell him, “I understand, is it possible you talk a little bit?” We don’t want to make trouble. We didn’t stop him.
I say, “Are you thirsty? Let me give you a drink of water.”
But Jiang tried running in. He kept yelling to us, “Why do you guys arrest my people? Nothing wrong with him. Why do you arrest him? Why do you detain him [another protester]?”
The police, they already warned him. I was telling him in Chinese too, “Please don’t run in. If you do that, you’ll get in trouble. You’ll get arrested.”
So it was Monterey Park police’s decision to detain him?
Did Monterey Park police wonder why you had handcuffs on you?
I am a cop. I have the right to get handcuffs. But that day, I was just security. Even as security, I can carry handcuffs too, by law. But other people who protest, thinking I’m not a police.
Why do you think they called you a spy?
I’ve been a cop since 1999 and my assignment is the Cultural Exchange Program. We have a group of police family and we go outside of the U.S. We’ve been to almost 40 countries to date. Sometimes Chinese police visit here to learn about American law and they bring a souvenir. Just like a belt, suit, anything that’s police stuff. A lot of the police have the belt, the buckle.
That day, I have the belt like the Chinese police belt. It was a gift. But the guy over there, he try to make it news. He take a picture of me, tried to pull my shirt. If he wanted to see the belt, I would have let him see it. You want a picture, go ahead. But he tried to pull my jacket.
I’d like to talk to these people, I want to understand. One side would say I’m a spy because of the buckle. If I was a spy, I wouldn’t put the buckle there. I don’t think I would show you anything.
Some protesters also accuse you of using your position on the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles to advance a pro-China agenda. Is that true?
It’s my seventh year as president of the Chamber of Commerce. People mention that I use my position to make people support China. It’s not right. I’m not Communist. I’m not. I’m an American citizen. Most important, I believe in the American Dream. I want people to have a good life, get his own dream. Today, even if I read a bad report about myself. I don’t hate them because I know their purpose. I know they’re trying to get support. But the big thing is we need people to understand. We need to bring peace and harmony instead of just writing and making people upset.
Others have also said you are a congressman in one of the provinces in China and use your political ties here in the United States. How would you respond to that?
The only position I’m holding is an advisory position, it’s a friendship position from overseas.
Xinjiang is one of the largest provinces in China. It borders seven countries. I’ve been there before. After I’ve been there, I found out that something really needed to be changed. I talked to the government, I give them advice. What advice? Believe it or not. I say, “Your toilet facility is not clean, it’s lousy.” I love to give people advice. It doesn’t matter if it’s in China or India. I want people to improve.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Chinese American community in Los Angeles?
I love America, but there’s also something I love about China because the people are so innocent. On the other side, there are people who support Communism. But they change. So we have to give them a chance to prove, just like you give me the chance to prove.
You write just one side, it’s not fair. At least even if I’m wrong, you know what I’m talking about. At least you know my idea. I just want people to be more open, to understand the world. I think people should write. But what you really need to do is choose to tell the truth.
Interview was edited and condensed.