This past weekend in Chinatown, I read hundreds of messages written as part of a project called “Love Letter to Chinatown.” It is a response to the Anti-Asian violence in the Bay Area and in Atlanta. While the messages were intergenerational, most were from young adults. Here’s just a sample:
“Praying for strength to use my voice, uplift our people, instill love and pride in who we are and what we stand for, proud to be Asian.”
“We will rise against all the hate, use will power through the hate with love.”
“The safest communities aren’t those with the most cops, they are the ones with the most resources. We keep us safe.”
“…the racial injustice is very upsetting. Just remember you are not alone, there will always be people who support and will help you. Stay safe, you are loved.” This was written by a non-Asian 13 year old.
Image from Vida Kuang Facebook page in 2020.
Upon reading these, I, as a 74 year old, was deeply moved. In March 2020, shortly after President Trump labeled COVID as the “China virus,” I was an unfortunate victim of an Anti-Asian encounter at a local bakery. I was standing in line when I was pushed from behind and nearly fell. The person who pushed me had hate in their eyes and yelled at me. The next week, I was standing at a stop light and a woman gave me the finger and mouthed an obscenity. For days, I could not sleep and stopped taking my regular walks in the neighborhood.
And yet, the statements in Chinatown this past weekend are giving me strength and helping me transition from identifying as a victim to one who strives to take their messages to heart and dare to voice my view. With that courage offered by our youth, I ask those who do reject the vision of the District Attorney’s office, what concrete ideas besides engaging in mass incarceration do you have for keeping our community safe?
The Chinese and Asian Community is living in a lot of pain, fear and anger. People still do not feel safe. Elders are still hesitant to go out alone and while businesses need people to come back, people remain on edge. We are suffering from prejudices, violence, hate that is rooted in the history that began with the Chinese Exclusion Act and also crimes that are rooted in poverty and lack of resources and investment especially in communities of color. We know from our history and from data and scientific studies that putting more people behind bars does not lower crime.
America saw three mass shootings in three days, targeting Black people and people of color. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and we are still enduring horrific violence. What can we learn from the dreams of our children and grandchildren? How can we better respond to the needs of victims and stop violent acts before they happen?
SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin with Supervisor Connie Chan and former Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. Image from Connie Chan Facebook page.
Under Chesa Boudin, the District Attorney’s Office has expanded victims services so that even if you did not file a police report you could seek support to help you recover. I believe I could have benefited greatly from this important modification.
The DA’s office was quick to respond to Chinese speaking elders by establishing an AAPI Elder Steering Committee to protect the vulnerable, increasing the victims services division to include 7 Chinese speaking staff and appointing Kasie Lee, a Chinese American who is fluent in Cantonese, to head that office. When a case goes to court victims can request the services of an interpreter to help them understand what is going on. When small businesses in Chinatown were targeted by predatory organizations, the DA’s office made sure these business owners had access to legal services and protections and is working to return the money stolen through fraudulent lawsuits.
Moreover, under Chesa, the DA’s office’s conviction rate is higher than his predecessor’s and the highest for San Francisco in years. What he has brought to the office is a focus on the root causes of why crimes occur, directing resources at the front end to prevent violence.
This recall is a waste of our resources and time and a distraction from real solutions for our public safety.
Author’s bio: Pam Tau Lee is a founding member of SF Chinese Progressive Association and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. She was a member of HERE local 2, worked in the industry for 20 years, and served as staff director of hotels and facilitated discussions on immigration which lead to immigrant worker freedom rides. Pam also cofounded the Just Transition alliance. She currently serves as chairperson of International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.
Pam Tau Lee. Image from Pam Tau Lee Facebook page.