SF Supervisors Pledge Plan to Fight Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans

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Hundreds gather at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 20, 2021, for a Stop AAPI Hate rally which made space for people to grieve, make art and to honor the lives lost to recent anti-Asian violence.
Hundreds gather at Portsmouth Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 20, 2021 for a Stop AAPI Hate rally, which made space for people to grieve, make art and to honor the lives lost to recent anti-Asian violence. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is working to prioritize public safety for Asian American and Pacific Islander seniors in the city’s upcoming budget, and has resolved to come up with an action plan by the end of May in an effort to prevent anti-Asian crimes, while also working to better coordinate support for victims of hate and violence.

At a public meeting Thursday, city agencies shared some of the ways San Francisco is already working to combat anti-Asian attacks. These include a network of neighborhood ambassadors and a new internal data dashboard to track hate crimes, with a focus on AAPI elders.

"This was in direct response to community concerns regarding hate-based incidents, which were not being reflected in the reported hate crime statistics," said Daryl Fong, San Francisco Police Department community engagement division commander.

Around 360 incidents – nearly 40% of the Bay Area’s AAPI hate incidents over the past year, have occurred in San Francisco, said a member of the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice during Thursday's day-long hearing. Community advocates like Deputy Public Defender Nikita Saini said the city could do better.

"Rather than relying on a broken system that has failed us, we must invest in community-based solutions," Saini said during the public comments portion of the hearing.

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Many speakers called for greater coordination between city agencies and community groups to counteract and prevent crimes targeting AAPI residents, improved cultural and linguistic competency, particularly for first responders, and more cross-racial solidarity.

"So often our communities are being pitted against each other," said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. "We want to understand the divisions, particularly around the Chinese and Black community."

Shakirah Simley, director of San Francisco's Office of Racial Equity, also gave a presentation to the board. Simley said many structural issues and problems existed before COVID-19, but the pandemic has created a more intense “pressure cooker.” She noted the importance of looking at all facets: before, during and after an incident, while also emphasizing the "tremendous" amount of race-based structural violence AAPI residents are facing.

"We know that there’s a tremendous amount of race-based structural violence that our AAPI residents face every day from housing conditions or work conditions and access to health care and other services," she said, adding that expanding preventative education, countering anti-immigrant narratives and white supremacist extremism are also important parts of combating the problem. "And we do need systemic policy change in public services to remedy this."

Adrienne Pon, executive director of the city's Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs echoed the importance of an intersectional approach — noting how racial, economic, health and housing equity intersect with other facets, such as criminal justice and access to services.

“Addressing the hate and violence has to be about all these things,” she said. “It's not enough to have a conversation when something bad happens. We need to have ongoing conversations and collaborations about how to solve these problems.”

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While the overall discussions will eventually be refined into what may go into a budget, Pon said “it isn't always about more. It's about where you put the investment and how you sustain that support for community-based organizations that are doing the hard lifting, and for victims' rights and services.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said she wanted the AAPI community to know that she will work to find ways to address that issue, “regardless of budgets,” and that prevention is just one aspect of safety.

“It is absolutely critical that every person in our city, every person visiting our city, especially those in our Asian community right now, feel safe at all times — feel that they have someone that they can go to to report crimes and feel that they have someone that can be there for them as cases go through the system,” she said.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, who convened Thursday's hearing, said it was the most comprehensive step the city has taken to date to address the rising crime statistics against AAPI community members. While he acknowledged that community-based organizations have truly stepped up to meet a large gap in rapid victim response, Mar said the onus should not just be on community organizations.

"We as a city also need to step up," he said. “We need to ensure that where prejudice-based [crimes] and hate crimes exist, that barriers are removed, investigations are adequate and there are fair and effective consequences."

Mar said he plans to hold another hearing later this month, and to review the draft action plan at another hearing in June.