Attacks on Asian-Americans Lead to Racial Tension in SF

Juliana Barbassa, Sacramento Bee, May 15, 2010

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Still, such attacks and the death of a Chinese immigrant from San Francisco who was assaulted during a visit to Oakland have focused the anger of Asian-Americans here, pushing them to vent in emotional rallies their long-simmering perception that they are targets of racially motivated violence. In all cases, the perpetrators were black teenagers, police said.

“This just sent them over the top. This is an activist city, but this isn’t an activist population at all,” said Chia-Chi Li, one of the organizers of a rally that drew hundreds of mostly older Chinese-Americans to the steps of San Francisco City Hall bearing signs saying, “Asians are not punching bags,” and “Stop attacking the elders and the vulnerable.”

In this bastion of diversity and tolerance, the tension between two of its minorities has become painful.

Although both groups have suffered discrimination over the decades, the African-American community has been declining here faster than in any other major city, while the Asian-American community has been growing, partly due to immigration.

Now almost one in three San Franciscans is of Asian descent, and many have moved into affordable, historically black neighborhoods.

Street violence in these neighborhoods is not new, say people in the black community. They’ve suffered it for years. It just never drew much attention, they said.

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Police Chief George Gascon has played down the role of race in the attacks, and pointed to statistics to show Asian Americans are not disproportionately targeted in street crimes in San Francisco.

Asian Americans make up 30 percent of the city’s population, and account for 19 percent of the victims, Gason said. African Americans are 7 percent of the population, but make up 21 percent of victims.

These are crimes of opportunity, agreed Greg Suhr, police captain of the Bayview district where Mrs. Cheng lives. Victims tend to be vulnerable–the elderly, the young, women, “whoever’s easiest.”

Mrs. Cheng is about 4 feet 10 inches tall, he said. One of her assailants, a 15-year-old who was arrested and charged with felony assault, is 6 feet tall.

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Some of the violence suffered by Asian-Americans in San Francisco comes from the fact they are moving into neighborhoods that have crime, said Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and head of the city’s NAACP chapter.

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When Asian-Americans moved into black neighborhoods like Mrs. Cheng’s, it may have created tensions that were exacerbated by economic stresses and deep language and cultural barriers, experts say.

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