SACRAMENTO — Members of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus gathered Feb. 12 to denounce the recent string of violent attacks against Asian Americans and to propose new legislation aimed at addressing this growing crisis.
One new bill proposed, Assembly Bill 557 by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), would create a statewide hate crimes hotline housed within the California Department of Justice.
“Over the course of this pandemic, we have seen a horrific uptick in hate crimes targeting our API communities,” said Chiu. “We cannot stand idly by and allow this to continue. Having a centralized, statewide approach to tracking hate crimes will make all of our communities in California safer.”
“Unfortunately, hate crimes are on the rise across California, including in the South Bay. Indeed, according to recent data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 72 hate groups currently operating in California, which is the highest number in the country,” said Muratsuchi. “The hotline will provide a safe, anonymous place for people to report a hate crime, many of whom may face cultural or linguistic barriers or who may distrust authorities. We all want to see a California that is free of hate and this bill will be a big step to make that happen.”
AB 557 will require the Department of Justice to establish a toll-free phone hotline for the public to report hate crimes and to direct victims to local law enforcement agencies, services, and resources. The hotline will operate Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for federal and state holidays. It will be accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not speak English.
Following reports of an increase in hate crimes nationwide, similar hotlines have been established recently in other states and in parts of California, including by the district attorneys’ offices of the City and County of San Francisco and the County of Alameda.
According to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, during the COVID crisis, hate incidents against Asian Americans have increased dramatically, with more than 2,800 reports nationally and more than 700 in the Bay Area. Recent incidents in the Bay Area have left several elderly API individuals injured, with one man dying from his injuries.
Under Chiu’s tenure as chairman, the API Legislative Caucus has advocated for a number of reforms to help address anti-Asian hate and violence. These proposals included the creation of a racial bias task force staffed with immigrant advocates, issuance of state agency guidelines to combat stereotyping and bullying in the context of COVID, and increased funding for the Stop AAPI Hate project and other similar projects documenting the impact of COVID on API communities.
Chiu is also the chair of the Assembly’s Housing and Community Development Committee. He represents the 17th Assembly District, which encompasses eastern San Francisco. Learn more at: https://a17.asmdc.org/
The Oakland Police Department reported on Feb. 8, “OPD officers arrested a person of interest in connection with violent attacks on three people in Chinatown last month. Today, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged the individual for the assaults. We are thankful to our community members who provided information leading to the arrest in this case.”
Yahya Muslim, 28, was charged with assault, battery and elder abuse.
The California Asian Pacific American Bar Association said in a statement on Feb. 11, “Cal-APABA applauds Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County’s district attorney, forming a special response unit to address the rise in anti-Asian violence. Elders in the Bay Area Asian American community have experienced violent assaults in recent weeks, with one assault resulting in the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old grandfather.
“Cal-APABA looks forward to further tangible action to protect the community’s most vulnerable members.”
A group of citizens has spoken with local merchants and is now patrolling Oakland Chinatown to prevent further attacks.
Jimmy Bounphensy, a truck driver who lives in San Jose, is leading the volunteer patrol. He told Fox2, “We’re all in this fight together. Stop all this racism. I’m here for Chinatown, for the people.”
Kelly Means said that both he and Bounphensy, being from immigrant families, could not stand by and do nothing.
“I feel the pain. My mother being robbed on a bus. My auntie being beat and robbed for her necklace,” said Means, who grew up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, a high-crime area with a large Southeast Asian population.
“My grandparents, growing up, collecting cans. I can only imagine something happening to them,” said Bounphensay, who also grew up in the Tenderloin.
Both men said they were spurred to action by videos of unprovoked attacks on Asian seniors.
“These people, they’re not my blood, but I feel like we have to step in as Asian community because I feel what they’re going through,” said Means.
San Francisco Fatality
In San Francisco, a Thai American senior was fatally injured and the victim’s son-in-law, Eric Lawson, established a Go Fund Me campaign that has raised more than $68,000 as of Saturday afternoon. The description reads, in part:
“Eighty-four-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee died at 6:07 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 at S.F. General Hospital from injuries sustained while on his routine morning walk in the Anza Vista neighborhood of San Francisco.
“Originally from Thailand, he was a nearly blind, gentle person, beloved by his family. He was violently taken from them by a despicable19-year-old thug that came to his neighborhood via a car disabled by an earlier hit-and-run, and then decided to prove how tough he was by brutalizing a senior citizen. Our family has endured multiple verbal anti-Asian attacks since the beginning of the pandemic … this time it was fatal.
“Racism has once again proven deadly. Anti-Asian racism has become a very serious danger to all Asian Americans, particularly in San Francisco. It’s time the authorities took serious action to combat it. For your own safety and/or that of your Asian American family, friends, and neighbors, call [District Attorney] Chesa Boudin … and demand action on this despicable case.
“The perpetrator has been identified, and is now in jail awaiting court process. And now that Mr.Vicha Ratanapakdee has died of his injuries, hard prosecution for this murderous hate crime is the only path to justice and community safety.”
The SFPD said in a statement on Feb. 2, “On Jan. 28, 2021, at approximately 8:28 a.m., officers responded to Anzavista and Fortuna avenues regarding an assault. Officers arrived on scene and discovered an 84-year-old male victim lying on the sidewalk. Officers rendered aid and summoned medics to the scene to transport the victim to the hospital for life-threatening injuries.
“Officers conducted the initial investigation, which discovered that a male suspect ran up to the victim from across the street and pushed the victim, which caused him to fall to the pavement. The suspect then fled with a female associate.
“Initial investigation by SIT/General Crimes Unit identified the male suspect as 19-year-old Antoine Watson of Daly City and the female associate as 20-year-old Maylasia Goo of Daly City. On Jan. 29, 2021, investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Watson for … assault with a deadly weapon and … elder abuse causing great bodily injury.
“On Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, investigators were notified that the victim succumbed to his injuries. The SFPD Homicide Detail took over the investigation.
“On Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at approximately 8:45 p.m., officers from the SFPD Tactical Unit and the SFPD Homicide Detail served a search warrant on the 500 block of Lisbon Street in Daly City and located Watson and Goo, who were taken into custody without incident. Watson was transported to San Francisco County Jail and booked on the outstanding arrest warrant and on one count of … murder. Goo was transported to the San Francisco County Jail and booked on one count of … accessory after the fact.”
Actor Daniel Wu posted surveillance video of the attack and said, “I feel it’s important that people see this senseless sh*t. Vicha Ratanapakdee was minding his own business when he was brutally tackled and killed. As you can see, this was not a robbery, it was an act of hate.
“If you see something like this or this happens to you, report it! Call 911 immediately. I want to give a big props to [journalist] Dion Lim, who has been tirelessly reporting about these hate crimes since the beginning, trying to make sure people are aware that this is happening to our community so they don’t get swept under the carpet.”