SAN FRANCISCO – The mayor of San Francisco expressed despair over the increase in reported hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders last year, up an astonishing 567% from the previous year, according to preliminary figures released by the police department on Tuesday.
Mayor London Breed pledged continued support for the community, saying she suspects actual numbers are much higher because people are reluctant to report to the police. The initial count shows 60 victims in 2021, up from nine in 2020. Half of last year's victims were allegedly targeted by one man.
It would have broken her heart if the grandmother who raised her had been attacked “in the way that we see so many of our seniors of the AAPI community being attacked,” Breed said at Tuesday's press conference. “But that did not happen. Because as a community we protected one another. And that’s what we have to do now more than ever.”
Hateful attacks against the AAPI community — Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — surged nationally during the pandemic, fueled in part by then-President Donald Trump's calling COVID-19 a derogatory nickname that insulted China. The Stop AAPI Hate coalition out of San Francisco State University tracked more than 10,000 incidents of hate from March 2020 through September 2021.
In San Francisco and elsewhere, video clips of Asian Americans being attacked and robbed on public streets alarmed the community so much that frightened seniors stayed home. Most recently, former San Francisco Bay Area resident Michelle Go died in New York City after a mentally disturbed man pushed her in front of a subway. Officials there say there is no indication the man was motivated by racial bias, but Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are still rattled.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said at Tuesday's news conference they have expanded the crime tip line to include more languages and are sharing safety tips for Lunar New Year celebrations. But he also acknowledged his department is only part of a criminal justice system that includes prosecution and judges.
Statistics do not show the whole picture because not everyone reports incidents. Also, prosecutors are unable to tack on hate crime enhancements without a clear statement of bias by the alleged attacker. This has frustrated some victims and their families, who see the charge as a sign of accountability.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who faces a recall election in June, has come under fire from some Asian American victims.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Anh Lê filed a federal lawsuit against Boudin, saying his office has systemically refused to uphold the rights of Asian Americans victimized by racial violence. Lê says the DA’s office never informed him of a lenient plea deal cut with his attackers or the lack of a hate crime charge until after the fact.
Rachel Marshall, a spokeswoman for the DA, said in a statement that Boudin has been a “steadfast advocate” for improved services and support for the AAPI community. He has added multilingual advocates to his office and launched an AAPI elder abuse steering committee, she said.
The mayor at Tuesday's news conference declined to comment on the lawsuit.