Kasie Lee brings hope to Chinese monolingual victims in San Francisco

Kasie Lee. (Courtesy photo)

Amid the crisis of non-stop anti-Asian violence and hate incidents, an Asian American woman has been appointed to be the interim head of the Victim Services Division at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Kasie Lee 李蕙儀, a Chinese American attorney who is fluent in Cantonese, assumes her new position as a key figure in victims support on May 17, 2021, as the City grapples with non-stop daily attacks on Asian Americans.

  • Helping Asian victims

“I have very strong feelings about Asian victims having access to justice,” said Lee. She pointed out that when she was in college, she began to help victims of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, including assistance in language interpretation for monolingual victims as one of her priorities.

In the late 1990s, when she was finishing her undergraduate studies at U.C. Davis, she worked in a local resource center for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. At that time, she launched a multi-lingual program at the center to help Chinese-speaking victims. Following her ideas, the center recruited bilingual students from U.C. Davis and trained them to assist help victims with limited English proficiency.

Later, Lee went to the University of Southern California for law school and worked at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles 羅省法律援助基金會 to help low-income, Asian-Pacific immigrant families.

After spending 12 years in Los Angeles, Lee returned to the Bay Area in 2013 to work as a private attorney. There, she took on youth-related cases at a discounted fee and also helped staff San Francisco’s Asian Law Caucus with Chinese-speaking clients.

Victim services include keeping the victim informed of court proceedings and some financial assistance, which will also be Lee’s focus.

  • Why join the DA’s office?

When asked why she joined District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office from the private sector, Lee revealed that she didn’t know Boudin at first because she had been working in Los Angeles for many years.

During the 2019 District Attorney campaign, she noticed that Boudin often attending Chinatown rallies and believed that he knew about the crime incidents in Chinatown. There were a number of high-profile cases in Chinatown during the 2019 campaign season, including the Chinatown leader who was robbed for his Rolex watch and the case of a man at Portsmouth Square who was knocked unconscious.

After Boudin took office, the District Attorney’s Office reached out to Lee offering a job, Lee made clear said that she wanted to work in a “hybrid” mode, meaning that while serving as a prosecutor, she could also assist with Asian-related cases to assist victims. The office agreed, so she took the job.

“I didn’t take this job because I need the money,” Lee said.

  • Controversy and “miscommunication”

The handling of cases by Boudin and the District Attorney’s Office has sparked controversy. What has been viewed by the public as a failure to prosecute or leniency on crime has triggered an ongoing recall campaign.

Lee says that much of the controversy stems from “miscommunication.” She explained that people on social media often say that they should “charge this case,” and expect a response from the office. In general, however, they do not respond because but prosecution is “not like a show.”

She said that after the police make an arrest, the District Attorney’s Office will have 48 hours to file charges against the suspect. Generally speaking, they will not release public statements.

But she acknowledged that in the bigger picture, victims being under-informed or unaware of the process is a “larger problem.”

During the weekend of May 15th, a Chinatown merchant was attacked by a suspect and the suspect later returned and retaliated against the merchant.

The incident was publicized by the press and the victim’s photos were circulated on social media. However, during the weekend, Lee said that the case has not yet reached her desk. She said that’s a part that she wants to improve, too.

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The Chinese language version of the story appeared on the World Journal on May 17, 2020.

Bilingual journalist. San Francisco-based.