The random assault of a beloved security guard in Vancouver’s Chinatown last month was the last straw for many merchants, including the victim’s wife, who was so fed up she issued a challenge to Kennedy Stewart to walk the streets with her.
While in Chinatown on Saturday to help kick off the second annual Light Up Chinatown outdoor celebration, Vancouver’s mayor responded to Brandy La Rocque Johnson’s invitation and claimed public safety is his top priority.
The free two-day event with live entertainment, food trucks, lights and lanterns in the 500-block Columbia Street, 100-block Pender Street and neighbouring streets during Mid-Autumn Festival, is bringing much-needed visitors to the historic neighbourhood.
“I do feel brighter days are ahead for Chinatown and a lot of it’s to do with events like this,” Stewart told Global News.
Chinatown continues to be plagued by street disorder that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harold Johnson, the 64-year-old security guard who’s patrolled the area’s streets for two decades, was repeatedly punched by a stranger on August 12 while making his morning rounds at the Chinese Cultural Centre.
The attack on Johnson was a black eye the community was not going to tolerate.
“I am angry,” Johnson’s wife, Brandy La Rocque Johnson, told Global News on August 15.
Fed up with random attacks in the neighbourhood where she was raised and runs a business, Brandy called for merchants to take back the streets and had some stern words for Stewart.
“What in the world is the mayor doing?” said Brandy.
“Walk and see what’s really happening here, it’s time he woke up.”
When asked Saturday if he would walk the streets with her, the mayor did not directly answer the question.
“Everybody needs to feel safe in Vancouver,” Stewart told Global News.
Stewart did walk past tents in the 100-block of East Hastings Street west of Main.
Johnson, who is still recovering from a concussion, broken nose and cheekbone, said the incident haunts him and he did not know or even recognize his attacker.
“He has nightmares at night,” his wife told Global News on Friday.
“It’s a little scary.”
The suspect accused of assaulting Johnson, 44-year-old Kevin Aaron Hibbard, is wanted on a B.C.-wide warrant after allegedly failing to appear in court Thursday.
Meantime, the Johnsons are grateful the community has raised almost $30,000 to assist Harold while he’s unable to work and recovering at home.
“You can knock me down but I’m going to get back up, come back strong,” Johnson told Global News on Friday before he was presented with a $20,000 cheque from a GoFundMe campaign organized by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
On August 22, the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association donated the $8,800 they raised to Johnson and his wife.
Johnson said he intends to return to work before his planned retirement next year.