The facts are not yet fully known in the recent death of Luis Ruiz in Chinatown, but is a sadly familiar to story occurring too often in Fresno. It is a little too close for comfort.
Fresno's Chinatown has been known for years as a dumping ground for criminals, some of them the violent ones no one wants in their neighborhood. Other Valley towns know that one good way to get rid of a problem offender is to give them a one-way ticket to Fresno. To downtown Fresno. Ventura and G Street, in particular.
Some are sent directly from prison.
This is the location of the biggest transient magnet in the Valley where well-meaning organizaions try to help those who have fallen on hard times or worse.
Without this element Chinatown is a relatively quiet place. Since the redevelopment of the 1960s there have been few residents in Chinatown. It is home to some low-rent apartments and rooming houses that serve as a retirement residences for many. Particularly, for some elderly men who came to the Valley for labor work. Some have earned a small pension and can survive in an environment of cheap rent and free food. For the most part they are quiet residents living out the last years of life sitting with old friends on a bench exchanging stories and watching the world move along.
They live almost unnoticed, except for another element that has invaded Chinatown. It is the violent offender or drug-influenced aggressor who finds the elderly residents an easy mark to harass and try and get what little they have for themselves.
So here we are. An elderly man, living under the radar in Fresno, is dead, in China Alley near Inyo Street. And a criminal on parole who had arrived from Bakersfield just the day before stands accused. Motive: Ruiz had twenty bucks.
China Alley runs between F and G Streets and was the most lively and entertaining part of Fresno. 24-hours restaurants, gambling and other entertainments. It's where you went for good food and open 24-hours. Everyone knew where it was. Now the only sign is one the Azteca Theater put on the back of the Azteca Theater which backs into China Alley. Even the Fresno Bee did not name it as they usually do, because if they called it China Alley no one would understand them.
Chinatown is an area of contrasts. Fresno's oldest business district and interesting buildings. It is Fresno's Old Town. It is called Chinatown because the first residents were Chinese. Then Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, Armenian, and many other ethnic groups found Chinatown the best place to get a start in America.
Luis Ruiz was part of the story, and sadly, he punctuates the hollow promise that many find in downtown Fresno today. Fresno deserves better. Chinatown deserves better.
It is too late for Luis Ruiz. Let's hope Fresno will rally and end this situation. We all deserve better.
- David Owens
The facts from The Fresno Bee:
A man arrested Thursday in connection with the beating death of a 74-year-old man last week in Fresno had been released from prison the day before the victim's body was found, police said.
Vernon Belton, 42, of Fresno was booked on homicide charges in the Fresno County Jail. He is accused of killing Luis Ruiz, whose body was found lying in an alley in the 800 block of F Street shortly before 7 a.m. May 28, police said. There was blunt-force trauma to the victim's upper body.
Belton, a gang member, had been released May 27 from Wasco State Prison, police said. He was on parole for drug-related crimes. The motive in the killing appeared to be a minor dispute between the two men, police said.
Anyone with information on the homicide is asked to call detective Richard Tacadena at (559) 621-2448 or Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-STOP.
Fresno County Coroner's Office officials also are looking for help in finding Ruiz's family. The coroner's office can be reached at (559) 268-0109.