This weekend a growing network of Asian community organizations like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Asian Health Services, the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, the Oakland Unit of the National Brown Berets, and others will host two large, outdoor events in response to the recent increase in attacks against Asian Americans. The first scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb.13, will lead demonstrators from Madison Park in Oakland’s Chinatown to Clinton Park in Little Saigon. The second will start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, at Civic Center in San Francisco.
Facebook events created for this weekend’s gatherings say that there will also be a way for community members to attend virtually, though additional details have not yet been announced. In-person attendees are encouraged to socially distance and wear masks.
The Oakland Chinatown Coalition says the events were created for “multiracial, interfaith healing, and solidarity.”
Back in January and February of 2020, as early reports of the novel coronavirus started making headlines in America, San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood saw a marked drop in visitors patronizing shops and restaurants. As the year wore on, former President Donald Trump stoked xenophobia by referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus,” and reports of anti-Asian racism rose nationwide.
Now, a full year since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States, and as the Bay Area marks the second Lunar New Year of the pandemic, several high-profile and ostensibly racially motivated attacks have the local Asian-American community on edge.
On Jan. 28, an 84-year old Thai man named Vicha Ratanapakdee was violently pushed to the ground in San Francisco’s Alta Vista neighborhood; he died two days later of his injuries. Similar attacks in Oakland’s Chinatown targeted a 91-year-old man, a 60-year-old man, and a 55-year-old woman — all three landed in a local hospital as a result of their injuries. A string of robberies have also plagued both San Francisco and Oakland’s Chinatowns in recent weeks.
In response, local officials — including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, SFPD Chief Bill Scott and District Attorney Chesa Boudin — denounced the attacks last week and pledged to take action. Alameda County prosecutor Nancy O’Malley announced she’s creating a special response unit to focus on crime targeting Asian American communities. In a press conference on Feb. 3, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf condemned the attacks before pivoting to criticising the movement to Defund the Police. Her comments drew the ire anti-racist activists, as well as accusations that she was stoking racial tensions between Black and Asian communities. This weekend’s organizers are calling for more “long-term, community-centered solutions.”
Some segments of the anti-racist pushback appear to act not only in solidarity with other anti-racist movements, but to draw on some of the same techniques. A grassroots group called Asians with Attitudes has been patrolling Chinatown neighborhoods in both San Francisco and Oakland since Monday. Instagram posts providing first-person video of the patrolls say they are watching for anti-Asian violence, distributing Chinese language booklets on how to report hate crimes, and giving out whistles.
“We just want to let everyone know we’re out here to protect this community,” one man patrolling said in an Instagram video. The group has been heavily leveraging the platform to raise awareness, and an administrator for the @asianswithattitudes Instagram account wrote in a direct message that they are also starting patrols in Los Angeles, San Jose, and Stockton.
Asians with Attitudes goes by “A.W.A.” for short — a reference to famed Compton rap crew N.W.A. Asian actor Will Lex Ham and rapper China Mac have been using their platforms to promote the patrols. The two artists started a movement called “They Can’t Burn Us All” last year in response to nationwide anti-Asian hate crimes and consistently advocate for inter-racial unity. Oakland activist Jay B Singhay appears to have been leading the patrols, and an “anonymous friend” created a GoFundMe that’s been shared on several A.W.A.-affiliated Instagram accounts to financially support their efforts.