SAN FRANCISCO — In response to the recent surge in COVID-19-related violence against Asian American communities throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice (CCSJ) in San Francisco joined forces with a coalition of organizations in Oakland to organize two parallel Days of Action, both entitled “Love Our People, Heal Our Communities.”
On the first weekend of the Lunar New Year (Feb. 13-14), and a few days after more than 70 Asian American organizations issued a press statement condemning the violence, these two events brought together a multiracial and multigenerational coalition to stand against racism, xenophobia, and violence, and to offer space for healing the grief and pain that Asian communities feel in light of recent events.
Together, they called for community-centered solutions to keep diverse communities safe. These include culturally competent multilingual victim services, cross-racial education and dialogue, prevention-based programs (such as community patrols), and more.
At Saturday’s event at Madison Park in Oakland’s Chinatown, a crowd of about 700 people gathered to express solidarity against violence. Speakers shared the pain of how recent events had impacted them, and also called for unity.
Elected officials in attendance included Councilmembers Carroll Fife, Dan Kalb, and Sheng Thao, as well as City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas of District 2, who shared the stage with a multiracial slate of activists and organizers.
“Our immigrant and refugee communities feel so alone, so isolated. That’s why we are here today. To show them this love, this multiracial and intergenerational solidarity,” said Alvina Wong of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.
Ener Chiu of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation emphasized the role of Oakland Chinatown organizations in establishing in 2017 the Chinatown Ambassador Program, which hires formerly incarcerated individuals to build relationships between merchants, residents, and community members, including unhoused people; keep the streets clean, abate graffiti, and in general to keep watch over the neighborhoods they live in.
“Community safety is fundamentally about two things,” Chiu said. “First, it’s about the individual and collective relationships we have with one another in the space that we share. And second, it’s about our trust in the institutions that hold our lives.”
The pilot program does not have a permanent funding source and was scaled back last year during the pandemic, but the Oakland Chinatown Coalition would like to see it become permanent. “Our goal is to make that successful program permanent by making it part of the neighborhood property tax-supported Community Benefits District that we are working to establish this year,” Chiu said.
Julia Liou of Asian Health Services, a community health center in Oakland Chinatown that serves over 50,000 patients in 14 Asian languages, shared that their own staff and patients had been assaulted. “This is a time to acknowledge the pain and healing that needs to happen. This is also a moment in time that we must unite within and across communities, races, and cultures. It is clear that there needs to be an investment in long-term community-centered solutions in language and culture as well as immediate public health and safety measures.”
Saabir Lockett, a formerly incarcerated community member who now leads the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, championed multiracial solidarity and joined other speakers in calling for increased investments in local communities. “Together, we can advocate for meaningful solutions for our front-line workers, for our families who are suffering from poverty and homelessness, and people every day who are working to make it because the root cause of crime and violence is poverty and lack of resources.”
The following day, on the intersection of Valentine’s Day, the Lunar New Year, and Black History Month, approximately 300 people showed up in San Francisco’s Civic Center on an overcast afternoon to rally together against violence directed at Asian Americans. Participants of different ages, colors, and walks of life tied red ribbons on wishing trees and held signs decrying the recent attacks and calling for racial unity.
Elected officials in attendance included Assemblymember David Chiu, San Francisco Supervisors Gordon Mar, Shamann Walton, Connie Chan, and Matt Haney, and San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju. Speakers emphasized the need for investments in long-term, community-based solutions that address the root causes of violence, including structural racism and extreme inequalities in education, healthcare access, housing, and employment.
Justin Hu-Nguyen from the Southeast Asian Development Center called for increased investments in supportive services for both victims and perpetrators and their families as well as intervention- and prevention-based programs
“We must promote cross-community education and healing,” said Hu-Ngyuen. “We must move forward together to build an equitable society. Liberation for one, liberation for all.”
Chyanne Chen from the Chinese Progressive Association said she could have stayed home to celebrate the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day, but felt that it was important to attend the rally with her child.
“We want real solutions that are not just blaming or targeting other communities of colors. We want our voices to be heard and we want long-term solutions that can provide a vibrant, safe, and healthy community for future generations. I don’t want my kids growing up in this community feeling unwelcome and unsafe,” she said in her remarks, made in Cantonese.
Tinisch Hollins, associate director of Californians for Safety and Justice and a co-founder of SF Black Wallstreet, also spoke at the event, emphasizing the Bay Area’s history of solidarity between communities. She shared that she is a survivor of crime and has lost two brothers to gun violence. Violence has been an ongoing issue in many communities, she said.
“We have been struggling for decades because we have put our investments in the wrong places. We cannot incarcerate our way into safety. And we cannot have safety at the expense of one community over the others. We all deserve to be safe and we have to work together to achieve this,” she said. “We cannot create solutions driven by our wounds. You will not create safety if your hurt and anger is what’s driving your solutions.
“Real safety occurs from addressing the root of the problem and preventing it from happening in the first place. Real safety is achieved when we remove barriers for victims to get help as soon as they need it — and when we do the work at home to make sure no one else sees someone else as a target.”
Both the Oakland and San Francisco events were also live-streamed to Facebook with ASL interpretation. More than 300 people tuned in. The Oakland event can be viewed here and the San Francisco event here.