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Hundreds of Asian Americans joined city supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom at a rally Tuesday to call for safer neighborhoods after a rash of attacks against Asians, with much of the blame being focused on African Americans.
Newsom promised a $100,000 reward for finding the youths who assaulted and fatally injured Huan Chen on Jan. 24. Chen, an 83-year-old San Francisco resident, was attacked after he left a bus stop at Third Street and Oakdale Avenue on Jan. 24, according to police. He died on March 19.
After the rally, on the steps of City Hall, Asian Americans who say they have been victims of racial violence addressed the supervisors, some tearfully relating their stories and demanding action from the city.
“I feel I am not protected properly — I am afraid to go out,” said one woman who was beaten by five black youths and declined to give her name. “I felt like I lost my human rights when I was attacked. I ask that city government paid more attention to the Asians.”
A 57-year-old Chinese woman was thrown off the Muni platform at Third Street and Oakdale on March 22, police say. Not giving her name, she spoke haltingly at the board meeting through her tears.
“I came to the U.S. because I hoped I would be able to have a good life and achieve the American dream,” she said, echoing many other speakers’ disillusionment with their adopted country.
Many in the audience called for increased police presence and attention from the city government. Some of the speakers said the District 10 supervisor, Sophie Maxwell, was absent from this meeting. The ethnically diverse district, includes Potrero Hill, Bayview Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Silver Terrace, Dogpatch, Little Hollywood and the Portola districts.
Many of the speakers emphasized that these attacks were alleged to have predominantly been committed by African Americans.
One woman spoke of how her image of African Americans changed after she and a friend were surrounded and robbed by a couple of black teenagers. Attending high school with blacks, she had never been afraid before, but now had a different perspective.
“My entire image of African Americans changed. They could be violent. They could be stealing things around,” she said. “I still can be friends with them, but there’s just something bad in my heart that feels like they could be dangerous sometimes.”
Other speakers addressed the need for dialogue and communication between races.
“But I think we also need to understand that in America, race matters,” said Vincent Pan, the executive director of the San Francisco-based advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action. “It always matters, and the question is how we make race matter in a way that moves us toward positive solutions as opposed to negative solutions.”
Earlier Tuesday, at a press conference, Police Chief George Gascon noted that there is not enough evidence to call these attacks hate crimes. Instead, they might be “crimes of opportunity” and robberies.
But he acknowledged: “There was clearly race, and race factors there.”
Dana Sherne is a senior at Stanford University. She has been published in the Stanford Daily, Six Degrees: A Stanford Journal of Human Rights, Mountain View Voice and Contra Costa Times. Next year, she will begin working toward a M.A. in Journalism and International Relations at NYU, where she has received the Goren Fellowship.
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