Chinatown merchants are cheering the arrest last weekend of one of several people who they say relentlessly steal from area merchants and street musicians.
Price Wheeler, 41, a transient with a lengthy rap sheet, was arrested after allegedly attacking an 81-year-old gift shop owner in the area of Grant Avenue and Sacramento Street on Sunday.
At the time of Wheeler's arrest, Central Police Station Capt. Garret Tom and Mayor Ed Lee were in the area for the annual Chinatown Ping Pong Festival.
Tom was flagged down by witnesses and Wheeler was arrested soon after.
Wheeler had reportedly attempted to shoplift at one of the 81-year-old man's gift shops, according to Tom. After the elderly merchant kicked him out, Wheeler went to another one of the man's stores and "made a big mess," Tom said.
During the melee, police said, Wheeler pushed the elderly man to the ground, screamed at him and took a fighting stance. At one point, the merchant pulled a sword from its sheath for protection, but then police showed up and reportedly subdued Wheeler.
The transient threatened the arresting officer's family and accused police of racial profiling, Tom said.
But the police captain said the brazen shoplifters are the ones profiling.
"A lot of the time they're targeting older merchants or immigrant workers," Tom said. "They're just bullies."
Merchants agree. Tane Chan, the longtime owner of The Wok Shop at 718 Grant Ave., said she is fed up with another man who habitually robs tips from Chinese musicians who play in front of her store. On Wednesday, Chan said, the man reportedly grabbed a musician's money box and fled.
"This is the fourth time he's done it," she said of the thief.
Chan said she confronted the crook and told him to never come back. She believed he was prepared to attack her, but instead he fled.
Most merchants don't fight back, Chan said.
"The Chinese are peaceful, they don't like to make waves," she said. "And the homeless know that."
Chan added, "They shoplift in my store all day long."
As for Wheeler, he will be in jail for a while. At the time of his arrest, he was on felony probation. Wheeler also was found in possession of a crack pipe, along with a Louis Vuitton bag linked to a previous car burglary, Tom said.
During his arraignment Wednesday, Wheeler pleaded not guilty to multiple charges connected to Sunday's incident and is being held on no-bail status, said Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian.