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Summit County

Law, order and building trust
When a Bhutanese man was murdered in 2012, many questioned whether Akron was the place to remain; but the tragedy also opened a relationship with police
This story is part of a special series.

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
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In The Region:
Orientation for new immigrants includes a simple lesson: Police officers are your friend. It’s a first step in overcoming a suspicion many refugees feel toward those in uniform and authority. Through opportunity -- and tragedy -- the lesson is being refined and built upon.
LISTEN: A tragedy spawns more understanding

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Karma Tamang was about to start a new job when he was shot to death in a parking lot in North Hill in the summer of 2012. Corey Michael Hardison has 15 years remaining on his sentence for that murder. He admitted in court that killing a refugee -- a man he had never met -- was a way to climb up the gang ladder.

Naresh Subba, one of the leaders of the Bhutanese community in Akron, has an easy smile that’s usually reflected in his eyes. But not when he talks about that time – and Karma’s widow, Bishnu.

“He just destroyed the family. In our culture, once you’re married, you’re married for life. So once your partner is taken away, you’re just alone.”

Beyond the personal grief, he says it was a terrifying time for the Bhutanese community.

“That one incident actually scared all of us. Really scared. Because that particular man who was murdered was a simple, innocent, ignorant man. It shouldn’t have happened to him. ... And they thought that maybe now this is not the place we should have come (to). And people are calling their friends and relatives in other states and they were beginning to worry. Maybe the same thing might happen to us.”  

A turning point
Capt. Sylvia Trundle commands the Akron police zone that includes North Hill. She says the killing also marked a turning point for the rest of North Hill, including some of those who had been most confused – even suspicious – of the Bhutanese migration.

“It was just a devastating thing for this community. You started to see people understand what this meant to the community as a whole. They started to wrap their arms around them.”

After the killing, the Bhutanese Community Association of Akron organized meetings with police – not just to talk about horrific crimes, but to talk about everyday misunderstandings.

The department now employs a translator service to communicate with people who don’t speak English. And it’s beefed up community patrols to better understand Akron’s newest residents.

Capt. Trundle says that includes getting to know the context of the life for many of the refugees before they arrived here – first exiled from Bhutan, then lingering for decades in U.N. camps in Nepal.

“What we’ve found is they come from a country where they’re very oppressed. They come from very horrible conditions. And they’re not always trusting of law enforcement.”

Getting comfortable
Officer Kevin Evans’ job is in part to build that trust. He’s the school resource officer at North High School, which many of the Nepali children attend.

His is also the first face of law enforcement that many new refugees see – the officer who comes to the week-long orientation run by the International Institute of Akron and explains that police are your friends -- but you shouldn’t hug them or offer them money.

“How to use crosswalks. Keep your doors locked. Don’t take rides from strangers. Just very new to them, but essential to live in the city.”

The orientation also touches on domestic violence and the difference between discipline and child abuse, drunken driving and how to use 9-1-1.

The summer after the killing, Evans also was assigned to special patrols in North Hill. He says the efforts seem to have taken.

“One of the greatest things that I can hear from detectives is whatever’s going on up there, we’re having less victims, we’re having less incidents with our Nepali people. Things that they’re learning from being here I feel like maybe it’s contributed to their safety.”

Little adjustments and big challenges
John Valle, is a booster of the migration to his native North Hill and the head of Akron’s neighborhood assistance department. He says conflicts now can often have a comical cultural edge.

“I have heard of the police stopping a car and they’ve had life chickens and goats in the car. That’s just something that happens, and they’ve  got to learn that you can’t do that here.”

But sometimes things get deadly serious. On a sunny Friday afternoon in late September, a  call came into 9-1-1. Two men had walked into Bista Brothers Asian grocery on North Main, pushing an elderly man to the ground and holding a gun to Bharat Bista’s head. Police ended up killing one of the two men down the street -- the robbery and shooting remain under investigation.

Bista never closed his door, and sees the day as an aberration.

“At noon, no one expects someone to walk in with gun and point it at you. I think Akron is like a pretty safe place now. I don’t know about before, but now.”

And, he says, after a lot of pain and work, the Nepali-Bhutanese refugees have come to recognize that.

Related WKSU Stories

Learning language, culture and more
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bhutanese resettlement has had a big economic impact
Tuesday, October 6, 2015

North Hill, its history and its newest settlers
Monday, October 5, 2015

How thousands of people arrived in Akron from half a world away
Sunday, October 4, 2015

WKSU looks at the lives and culture of Akron newest immigrant community
Friday, October 2, 2015

Akron officer on leave following fatal shooting
Friday, September 25, 2015

As Akron's people diversify, so do the tools its police use
Thursday, June 18, 2015

Census shows NE Ohio population continues to dwindle
Thursday, June 25, 2015

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