Former SF Chinese police commissioners discuss representation, potential successor Nancy Tung

Former Police Commissioners Doug Chan, Victor Hwang, and Angela Chan. Nancy Tung’s nomination is pending. (Photo: Han Li & social media)

A certain ethnic minority’s representation in city hall has again stirred up the controversy in San Francisco.

Chinese Americans were seldom absent in San Francisco Police Commission for the past two decades. But starting in 2018, this powerful governing board derailed from the tradition, making public safety policies without a Chinese voting member while the Chinese community makes up one-third of the city’s population and experiences rising crime concerns.

Mayor London Breed in April appointed Nancy Tung(湯曉慧), a Chinese American prosecutor who ran a citywide District Attorney campaign in 2019, to the Police Commission to address the community call. The fate of Tung’s appointment is now pending on the hands of the Board of Supervisors, whose progressive majority might disagree with Tung’s “tough on crime” ideas, but facing the pressure to offer the seat to an ethnic Chinese.

The divisiveness extends to the Chinese community, too.

Before the supervisors move forward for a decision, three former Chinese police commissioners spoke up on the importance of representation. One of them is a judge and the other two clash on whether to support Tung.

Doug Chan(陳啟輝), a lawyer who chairs the board of the Chinese American Historical Society and also serves on the city’s Civil Service Commission, is an outspoken activist for Asian representation. He was a police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.

He told the World Journal that “any representation is better than nothing”. He praised Tung’s “considerable experiences” in the legal and policing field and believed that she would fight for the benefits of the Chinese community.

“We are entering a dangerous phase of Chinese American history”, said Chan, and emphasized that it’s important now to have representation to fight against the “adversary rhetoric” piling on the Chinese community. He also mentioned that some criticisms about Tung are unfair, including she accepted donations from the police union during her 2019 campaign.

If Tung got rejected, Chan predicted that it may take a long time to wait for another qualified Chinese candidate.

Victor Hwang(黃正凱), who served on the Police Commission from 2014 to 2016, is now an elected judge of the San Francisco Superior Court. Regarding the Chinese American representation and the skills needed to excel in the commissioner’s job, he spoke to the World Journal in a rare interview.

He said that the community representation is “absolutely essential”, and repeatedly pointed out “responsive to the community” as a crucial requirement for a police commissioner when “advocate for community interest”.

Based on his own experience in the past, he thought that the police commissioner should also solve the problems that the community cares about, and that person should be “connected to the community” and “have the trust of the community”.

Hwang, as a judge, is barred from making any political endorsements, such as Tung’s police commissioner nomination.

Angela Chan(陳艷芬), currently the policy director of the Asian Law Caucus, served as a police commissioner from 2010 to 2014 and was replaced by Hwang. She expressed her explicit opposition to Tung’s nomination.

“I am very concerned about the nomination of Nancy Tung”, she said, and “I strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to oppose her appointment”.

She argued that Tung’s “tough on crime” position has been practiced in San Francisco and California for years but not working. “Her approach is old-fashioned and does not lead to a more just and equal society.”

As for the appointment of Chinese Americans, Angela Chan acknowledged its importance, but “just filling a seat on a commission with a person of Chinese ethnicity is not enough”, and suggested the person should strive for “progressive reform” and “reduce racial inequality”.

Tung’s appointment will be heard in the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors on June 1, and then will go into the full board for a final decision. Some Chinese community members launched an online signature petition to support Tung, and have collected more than 500 signatures.

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The Chinese language version of this story appeared on the World Journal on May 25, 2020.

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