The national narrative about violence against Asian Americans is alarming: the fatal shootings of six women within Atlanta spas; the deadly shoving of an elderly man in San Francisco; the box-cutter slashing of a New York City subway passenger’s face.
Between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, more than 3,700 cases of racist acts from across the U.S. were reported to Stop AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate, just a fraction of those that actually occurred, according to the initiative.
While communities of the Bay Area Peninsula are certainly not immune to such acts, their rate of occurrence is much lower locally, Los Altos Police Department Chief Andy Galea said last week.
“We’re not getting and seeing the assaults we’re seeing making the national news or even locally here in the Bay Area, so I’m very happy to report that,” Galea said.
As part of an April 19 educational presentation about racism directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Galea shared a virtual stage with Palo Alto Police Chief Bob Jonsen, Deputy District Attorney Erin West, Los Altos City
Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng, Palo Alto City Councilmember Lydia Kou and Los Altos Police Capt. Scott McCrossin. Lee Eng and Kou are both Asian-American women. Avenidas, a nonprofit agency that runs local enrichment centers for seniors, hosted the free event. An encore in both English and Mandarin follows Monday (April 26).
The participating law enforcement reps made a clear distinction between hate crimes, acts of prejudice involving the commission of a crime, and hate incidents, acts of prejudice that do not involve a crime. Hate incidents are much more common locally.
Galea said local hate crimes are often limited to acts of vandalism like the “racist” stickers affixed to the campaign signs supporting Los Altos City Council candidates, including those supporting Lee Eng, in October. The police department took a report, but not enough evidence existed to identify a suspect.
So far this year, the District Attorney’s Office has addressed nine hate-crime cases, two of which pertain to perceived anti-Asian bias. In the mix is Karen Marie Inman, a 39-year-old white woman from Greenbrae accused of spitting in the face of an Asian-American man outside a Mountain View restaurant. Inman is charged with both battery and commission of a hate crime.
“Yes, we have heard a lot about what’s happening in the community, and I know personally about people who are scared and concerned,” West said. “What I can tell you is that we still live in a very safe place.”
Lee Eng said she had not contacted law enforcement about her own experience with a hate-related encounter, but she did not elaborate. In the days following the April 19 meeting, she did not respond to a Town Crier request for additional information, including whether she referred to the campaign sign vandalism, to her allegations that a local Black activist sent her threatening texts about council votes she cast in November or to something else.
Taking a stand, making a difference
It’s important for targets of racist acts to contact law enforcement, though not necessarily by dialing 911 unless the situation is an emergency, Jonsen said.
West agreed and emphasized that reports about any kind of xenophobic aggression may help prosecutors eventually build a case against a suspect by demonstrating a pattern of behavior.
“We have a difficult burden when we prove hate crimes because we have to prove that (a suspect) did that substantially because of their hatred,” West said. “So if we can then refer to your incident and say, ‘Well, look what this person said to Lynette the day before,’ it’s great evidence for us in actually proving our case.”
Witnesses of hate incidents also can assist by documenting what they see and speaking up to indicate racist behavior is not acceptable, Galea added. But they should be sure not to subject themselves to danger and realize their efforts may not have an effect on the perpetrator.
The unidentified white woman who in July lobbed racial slurs at an Asian-American postal clerk working in Los Altos, for example, did not respond to the protests of other customers around her.
Nonetheless, taking a stand is important, Jonsen insisted.
“Let’s take advantage of the opportunity that we have in working together and just sending the message regionally that we will not tolerate any of these actions, whether they’re criminal or not, any longer,” he said.
Pre-registration for Monday’s encore presentation is required. Visit avenidas.org/event/community-education-event-safety-and-awareness-in-mandarin-english/ to learn more.