Amid the pandemic, a rising trend of news coverage and social media reports of attacks against Asian Americans across the U.S. exposes an unprecedented public safety concern in the victimized community.
San Francisco, a city with more than one-third of its population are of Asian descent, is considering forming an anti-Asian hate crimes task force to tackle the threats. This move, currently under discussion in City Hall, is following the New York Police Department(NYPD) announcing the creation of the “Asian Hate Crime Task Force” in August.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it has not been easy for our Chinese community as they are facing xenophobia and discrimination”, said Mayor London Breed during a Chinese language media roundtable.
She listed several incidents that happened lately in the Bay Area, including the stigma of visiting Chinatown, hateful graffiti and flyers against Asians, and a high profile violent assault on an Asian American public transit driver.
“We are looking at a task force. I am working with the Assemblymember David Chiu(邱信福), as well as San Francisco Police Department(SFPD),” said Breed, “to talk about a way in which we can really seriously combat this really challenging issue.”
Ivy Lee(李康儀), an Asian American serving as the Criminal Justice Policy Advisor in Breed’s office, is in discussion with SFPD of implementing the idea of protecting the Asian community. While San Francisco’s leadership is committed to defunding the law enforcement, it is unknown now whether the city will copy NYPD’s model or put the task force under other city departments.
Additionally, the zero Chinese representation in San Francisco’s Police Commission remains a headache for the mayor. The World Journal learned that the mayor’s office has directed staff to focus on finding an eligible candidate who can win approval at the full Board and meets Mayor Breed’s high standards.
Asian victims number drops
In 2019, San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar(馬兆明), an Asian American lawmaker, made a law requiring SFPD to regularly publish reports of demographic data of crime victims.
The context in 2019, while multiple violent incidents involving Asian female and elderly victims shocked the entire city, was similar to the public fear now in the Asian community.
Since the law took into effect, SFPD has published two quarterly reports so far in 2020. The latest data shows that the Asian victims of hate crime drop, compared to last year.
From January to June of 2019, San Francisco had seven reported Asian or Pacific Islander hate crime victims. In 2020, for the same period of time, the number drops to four, accounted for a 42.9% decrease.
For the contrast in the feeling of rising crimes and the fact of data in crimes victims dropping, Mar said “many anti-Asian incidents go unreported or are not categorized as a hate crime by SFPD,” and “it’s hard to compare to prior year because our lives have changed so much”.
According to SFPD’s definition, a hate crime is a “criminal act or attempted criminal act”, based on the victim’s “actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender”. The act can be a verbal threat or any physical behaviors that result in injuries or property damages.
Mar also suggested that the decreasing data through June can be the reflection of an overall decrease in most crime statistics due to the shelter-in-place order.
Regarding the potential new task force by the mayor, Mar said “I appreciate Mayor Breed’s focus on anti-Asian violence and look forward to working with her and other city leaders to more effectively address the growing problem.”
Thousands of AAPI Hate incidents
Since March, the national self-report online platform for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on discrimination and violence incidents, Stop AAPI Hate, has so far received over 2,500 incidents.
The platform was founded by two prominent Asian American civil rights nonprofits (Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action) and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University(SFSU), aiming to address the anti-Asian situations during the pandemic.
The World Journal reached out to the coalition for the data of local incidents that happened in the San Francisco Bay Area, but hasn’t heard back.
According to the report released by the platform in late August, among the 2,583 incidents nationwide, seven out of ten involved verbal harassment, which included racial slurs, name-calling, and profanities. Physical assaults made up 9% of the incidents.
“The thousands of incidents and trends in this report are difficult to face, and yet they are only the tip of the iceberg — many more incidents go unheard and unreported,” Russell Jeung(張華耀), a professor of Asian American Studies at SFSU, said in a statement.
“We may never be able to paint the full picture on the true gravity of how catastrophic this issue is”, Jeung said.
According to SFPD’s latest report comparing the first six months of 2019 and 2020, in most crime categories, the reported numbers of Asian & Pacific Islander victims in San Francisco are decreasing.
Sexual assault: -52%
Hate crime: -42.9%
Child abuse: -34.8%
Elder abuse: -32.1%
Battery/other assault: -21.1%
Domestic violence: -21.1%
Aggravated assault: -17.9%
Motor vehicle theft: +68.2%
The Chinese language version of the story appeared on the World Journal on September 3 & 4, 2020.