Posted on February 12, 2021

Anger and Fear as Asian American Seniors Targeted in Bay Area Attacks

Eric Westervelt, NPR, February 12, 2021

Business and civil rights groups in California are demanding action after a recent surge of xenophobic violence against Asian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area left one person dead and others badly injured.

The brazen, mostly daylight assaults have rattled nerves in communities ahead of Friday’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Just last week in San Jose, a 64-year-old grandmother was assaulted and robbed of cash she’d just withdrawn from an ATM for Lunar New Year gifts.

Surveillance cameras have captured many of the attacks, including one against a 91-year-old man in Oakland’s Chinatown, who was hospitalized with serious injuries after being shoved to the ground by a man who walked up behind him.

In January, a 52-year-old Asian American woman was shot in the head with a flare gun, also in Chinatown.

Later in the month, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was going for a morning walk in his San Francisco neighborhood. Surveillance cameras captured a man running at him full speed and smashing his frail body to the pavement. Ratanapakdee died of his injuries two days later. A 19-year-old man has been charged with murder and elder abuse.

“These attacks taking place in the Bay Area are part of a larger trend of anti-Asian American/Pacific Islander hate brought on in many ways by COVID-19, as well as some of the xenophobic policies and racist rhetoric that were pushed forward by the prior administration,” says Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, a coalition of California community-based groups.

The more than two dozen recent assaults and robberies in the Bay Area mirror a national rise in hate crimes against older Asian Americans during the pandemic. From last March through the end of 2020, Kulkarni’s group has documented nearly 3,000 incidents of anti-Asian hate across 47 states and the District of Columbia.

“And roughly 7 to 8% of those, unfortunately, come from elders in our community who have experienced incidents, not unlike the ones that have taken place in recent days,” Kulkarni says.

Despite arrests in some of the high-profile attacks, the violence has prompted many Chinatown businesses to reduce hours during a normally bustling shopping period ahead of Friday’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Those celebrations are already severely curtailed and businesses here badly damaged by the ongoing pandemic.

“The fear is not only for the patrons but also employees,” says Carl Chan, head of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. “They [businesses] are so fearful they prefer to close early. We also have many juveniles driving around Chinatown and carrying guns, so they’re also hurting people before they’re being robbed.”

Now, with the specter of crime, Chan says some community members are taking matters into their own hands. Half a dozen ad hoc volunteer groups have sprung up offering to protect businesses and older residents when they shop.


Separately, more than 200 people across the area have volunteered to serve as “community strollers” in Chinatown starting next week.

In the wake of the attacks several Oakland city council members including Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, whose district includes Chinatown, have joined social justice groups warning against scapegoating and calling for solidarity between Asian American and African American communities. The Oakland Anti Police-Terror Project has asked people “to wear yellow to show you’re in support of Chinatown seniors and businesses.”


“Oftentimes, perpetrators have used the exact language of the prior president, words like ‘Wuhan virus, kung flu, China virus, China plague,’ “Kulkarni says. “And sometimes they have even weaponized the former president himself saying ‘Trump is going to get you, go back to your country.’ What President Trump did was to foment hate against Asian American communities and really put people in harm’s way. {snip}”