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700 Anti-Asian Hate Incidents Reported in Bay Area During Pandemic - True Figures Might Be Even Worse

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Pedestrians cross the street at Stockton and Jackson streets in Chinatown in San Francisco on Aug. 30, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Several elders were recently attacked in Oakland's Chinatown, including a 91-year-old man who was violently shoved to the ground on Jan. 31. Also in late January, an 84-year-old man died following an attack in San Francisco's Anza Vista neighborhood.

The attacks — both of which were captured on video — are just the most recent examples of a disturbing trend of violence and hate toward Asian and Asian American people.

A new tally released this week from the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center — a project based out of San Francisco State University that asks members of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the nation to self-report acts of hate and discrimination — found that there have been at least 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian hate in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Of those reports, 1,226 incidents took place in California, and 708 in the Bay Area alone. The majority of incidents in the Bay Area — 292 — took place in San Francisco. The cities with the second and third most incidents were San Jose (58) and Oakland (55).

Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, said one reason the numbers are high in California overall is because the state has "large concentrations of Asian American communities." It could also be that the group's outreach efforts have been widely covered by the media here, so more people are aware of it as a tool.

But she also said these numbers are likely an undercount.

"We don't by any means believe that it's exhaustive because, just like our community underreports to law enforcement, we think that there's underreporting just in general of these types of incidents," Choi said.

Choi pointed out that there is often mistrust among impacted communities that reporting a hate crime will actually do anything to address the issues. That concern is supported by a 2018 report from the California state auditor, which found that law enforcement agencies in the state have "not been doing enough to identify, report, and respond to these crimes."

"We do have, in general, underreporting because there is a mistrust of government, including law enforcement," Choi said. "And there has been data that shows that even when individuals report crimes or incidents that might be potentially racially motivated, their experiences have not been positive."

Choi also noted that a majority of these incidents are hate speech and harassment, issues that may not rise to the level of a hate crime, but still have damaging long-term impacts on people.

"Just because it's not a crime doesn't mean that it doesn't cause damage," she said. "We get reports from families who reported their elderly parents walking around the neighborhood as they've traditionally done ... being accosted, being approached and, in some cases, being assaulted."


In a press release announcing the new numbers, firsthand accounts from elders detail some of the physical and verbal abuse they've experienced in the Bay Area.

In one instance, a 68-year-old was waiting outside a pharmacy in Oakland when a group of construction workers "made fun of me by mocking me, fake coughing, spitting at me and making slant eyes gestures until I asked them to stop." In another, a 67-year-old man in San Francisco reported that he was struck from behind while in a hardware store. His assailant then verbally abused him using racist language.

"People feel emboldened is because they think they're speaking on behalf of the majority of the people," Choi said. She also noted that anti-immigrant rhetoric from elected officials plays a role.

For a majority of the pandemic, former-President Donald Trump repeated racist and inaccurate statements about the coronavirus, which researchers said coincided with a rise in violence against Asian and Asian American people.

"At the start of the pandemic — when people had higher fears, when shelter-in-place started and when President Trump began to insist on using the term 'China virus' — we saw a clear surge of racism," said Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Stop AAPI Hate project, in an interview with KQED. "We saw how hate speech by using the term 'China virus' led to hate violence. And I think that has invited a climate where people can target Asian Americans and attack them."

In response to the recent attacks, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley announced the creation of a special response unit focused on anti-Asian crimes, particularly against elders.

But these attacks have also reignited conversations around policing in Oakland. Some business leaders in Chinatown have said increased police patrols would make the area safer, while others argue that a community response would be more effective and culturally competent.

This week, more than 40 Asian American organizations from the Bay Area banded together to issue a joint statement calling for a non-police response, like patrols by volunteers and tailored support for victims.

"We can actually uplift our elders and call for more protection of our elders and investments in initiatives that really get to the drivers of crime and violence, and also to promote cross-racial solidarity and healing," Choi said.

"That's the only way that we're going to be able to get through this."

KQED's Tara Siler contributed to this story.

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