SF Chronicle: ‘Anti-Asian hate crimes are down in S.F. So why do AAPI communities feel unsafe?’

Reporter: Ko Lyn Cheang, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/8/2024

Link to article: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/aapi-hate-crimes-18655173.php

Tetet Naval, a Filipina San Franciscan, was waiting for the bus along Market Street in June when she felt something strike her in the back. Startled, she turned to see a man with a stick in hand. He yelled at her, “Go back to your country,” she recalled. Terrified he would do something worse, she ran.

“Before, I was very confident walking around because I know this place,” Naval told the Chronicle inside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, where dozens of people from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities rallied against targeted violence. “Now I’m more scared.”

About 80 AAPI community members gathered on the steps of City Hall ahead of a hearing held by the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on the state of crime and violence targeting Asian American seniors.

In the post-pandemic era, many older residents still don’t feel safe, even though reported hate crimes targeting Asian people are down from their 2021 peak.

San Francisco police investigated 14 incidents that it believed merited anti-Asian hate crime charges in 2023, police Sgt. Jamie Hyun of the Special Investigations Division said at the hearing. By comparison, there were six such incidents in 2022, 60 in 2021 and 10 in 2020.

Hyun said that one person was responsible for 40 to 45 of the 2021 incidents and that one person was responsible for about half of the incidents in 2023.

Of the 41 hate crime cases pending in the district attorney’s office, 25 are race-based crimes and 13 are anti-Asian hate crimes, said Nancy Tung, chief of the Vulnerable Victims Unit.

Hyun noted that the law defines hate crimes as crimes motivated by bigotry. The legal definition does not include acts of bigotry that may be protected by the First Amendment, like racist or xenophobic speech.

As such, advocates say, hate crimes can catalog the most extreme forms of targeted hostility, but be a poor metric for understanding community anxiety or measuring the full spectrum of bigotry experienced by the community.

“I’m not saying hate crimes aren’t important to track and understand, but it paints a very tiny picture of overall harm that occurs that’s impacting the Asian American community,” said Janice Li, director of the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice, formed in 2019 from four nonprofits to address public safety concerns in the AAPI community.

The coalition’s team of rapid-response advocates provided services to 73 AAPI residents in 2023. Most were victims of property crimes, she said, like home break-ins without an obvious racial motive. Those who experienced harassment in public spaces would also not be considered victims of hate crimes, added Annie Lee, policy director at nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action,another coalition member.

Sarah Wan, executive director of Community Youth Center, which belongs to the coalition, said she hopes the city continues funding the coalition’s culturally sensitive victim services programs. The coalition receives about $1 million in city funding, according to Chan.

“We’re not trying to replace public safety and law enforcement; we want to work hand in hand with them,” Wan said.

Anni Chung, president and CEO for Self-Help for the Elderly, underscored the importance of bilingual police officers to help monolingual older residents report incidents. “Our statistics show there were many hate incidents but not many prosecuted,” Chung  said, “which is why our seniors are not feeling very safe.”

Retiree Sally Chen, 70, said she doesn’t dare leave her home, a senior housing apartment in the Tenderloin, after 5 p.m. She finds her neighborhood too dangerous after dark, she told the Chronicle in Mandarin.

But the solutions to fear and racial discrimination, she thinks, lie in compassion and empathy for people of other racial backgrounds.

She attended an anti-racism workshop organized by the Chinese Progressive Association, an nonprofit advocacy group for lower-income Chinese immigrants. The restorative justice program has trained about 70 people on the root causes of interpersonal conflict.

“Hate has to be slowly resolved with peace. Hate is bad for your health,” Chen said.

Link to article: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/aapi-hate-crimes-18655173.php