Anti-Asian sentiment is growing rapidly across America, but few places are experiencing the same level of violence as California. In San Francisco alone, elderly residents are being punched and shoved while others are narrowly surviving brutal attacks.
In a surprising turn, Asian American community leaders and residents are torn about what to do to fix this situation. Some are calling for a more substantial police presence, while others are hoping for a different alternative.
What’s Happening in San Francisco?
Targeted racism toward Asians and Asian Americans has been around for decades, but a recent wave of violent hatred has many San Franciscans afraid for their lives.
In many ways, this renewed sense of suspicion and xenophobia could be related in part to the coronavirus. Since COVID-19 cases began to pop up in the U.S., some politicians started calling the pandemic the “China virus” in reference to the perceived ‘ground zero’ of the virus: Wuhan China.
Emboldened by racist rhetoric from the Trump administration, many people took to the streets or their Facebook accounts to warn their followers of the threat of Asian people in America. Of course, this outrageous and unfounded attack on innocent people was based on fear and ignorance, but the message stuck.
During 2020 and now in 2021, Asian communities around the country are under attack just for being here and living their lives. Few cities have been hit as hard as San Francisco, as once-safe neighborhoods become high-risk areas for thousands of Asian Americans.
Over 34% of the total population of San Francisco is of Asian descent, and many community leaders are advocates for equal rights, but this rise in racism is a threat to the intricate tapestry of the city. Cantonese, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, and other Asian groups have helped to build this region to where it stands today – without them, there may not be a San Francisco at all.
Understandably, the Asian population of the city is afraid of the next blow, and many are calling for a stronger police presence in their neighborhoods. However, city leaders are concerned that increasing the amount of police would erode the public’s trust and adversely affect Black and Hispanic citizens, who are more likely to be the victims of police brutality.
While the pressure on community leaders is immense, it isn’t out of line. As recently as mid-June, a 94-year-old grandmother of Chinese descent was mercilessly stabbed in front of her apartment building. The immediate response was to deploy more foot patrols while others called for justice.
Crimes like these hit especially close to home because, traditionally, many Asian cultures emphasize respecting elders and caring for the elderly. A senseless crime against a defenseless grandmother not only strikes fear into the residents but also represents a symbolic attack on Asian culture and heritage.
This is the driving force behind those who continue to call for action. However, solving this problem isn’t as easily solved by more boots on the ground.
In any police investigation, officers collect evidence or profile the suspect to gain insight into their actions and prevent further violence. In these cases, the aggressors defy characterization – they’ve been Black, Latino, and white, and many have a history of homelessness or mental illness.
Many victims are older, ranging from 70-90 years of age. Stabbings, robberies, and assaults have been the source of fear within the community. According to some, these acts of violence are tragic but not rooted in racism, as many others believe.
In fact, Eric McBurney, a public defender born in Taiwan, says that the answer can’t be that simple. Many of these cases are centered around mental illness.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a significant deal of racism in this country – I would know – but the story here of Asians being targeted is too simple,” says McBurney.
What’s the Truth?
Regardless of the debates between councilmembers, residents, public defenders, and the news media, the rash of violence is destroying the tenuous peace within the community. Whether racism is to blame or some other reason may not be clear for a long time, but for now, San Francisco remains a battleground.