San Francisco's hidden truth is out. That's what community organizer Carol Mo calls the realization that Asian residents are being targeted for robberies, burglaries and intimidation by young black men.
"It is San Francisco's dirty little secret," said Mo, a former Safety Network Community organizer in the Sunset District. "It's not news to us."
Hundreds of people marched into Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting to express their fear, frustration and outrage. But so far the response has been disappointing, particularly from the San Francisco Police Department. It seems intent on downplaying the role of race and its impact in the community.
The recent incidents of black violence against Asians is the perfect opportunity to open a dialogue about racism. Instead, they are attempting to close the door.
City officials, including the Police Department, say these assaults are part of a larger crime picture where gangs of kids take advantage of a vulnerable group of small stature. But Mo participated in a 2008 survey by the Police Department in which about 300 strong-arm robberies were analyzed. "In 85 percent of the physical assault crimes, the victims were Asian and the perpetrators were African American," she said.
The squeamishness city officials are experiencing about confronting those numbers doesn't reflect well on anyone. No one is saying the entire African American community is violent. But ignoring the legitimate anger and frustration from Asians is disingenuous and unfair.
"We love San Francisco," said the Rev. Norman Fong, a Presbyterian minister. "And we don't want to do anything to divide the communities. But at the same time, our community is hurting and we feel like our voices are not being heard."
Now that the Asian community has found its voice, city leaders must listen and respond. What should be done? Here are a few suggestions:
-- Understand the underlying conflict: This isn't just about stealing iPods. There's a deep divide between the two communities. Edward Chang, who lectures on civil unrest and race relations at UC Riverside, has studied the contentious history of Korean-African American relations in Los Angeles when Korean store owners moved into black neighborhoods.
"There was this sense of being invaded by someone else," Chang said. "There was a sense of needing to protect and defend their turf."
Another factor is the way the two cultures are perceived. Lee Mun Wah, a Berkeley-based documentary filmmaker and diversity trainer for large corporations, said there is resentment over how Asians are seen as "the favored minority."
"We are pitted against each other," Wah said. "African Americans sometimes say, 'We did all the work in civil rights, and they get all the benefits.' "
-- Create a dialogue: As Chang said, "In order to build trust, you must do things together." Wah suggests hiring black employees in Asian stores. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is pushing a summer program to hire black and Asian youths to work together in community patrols.
-- Speak up: Chiu thinks the language barrier is a huge part of the reason Asian victims do not report crimes. He stresses the need for multilingual police officers.
But the Chinese community also needs to overcome its reticence to go to the police. They are only making themselves more vulnerable by being seen, as one officer put it, as "silent, vulnerable and unwilling to fight back."
-- Listen to Mrs. Cheng: The 52-year-old woman was attacked March 22 when a 15-year-old boy allegedly threw her off the Muni platform at Third Street and Oakdale Avenue. She was injured, but she says she doesn't want retribution.
"This is my simple request," she wrote in an e-mail with the help of an interpreter. "That we can all live safely in our own homes without being burglarized. I feel ashamed that this horrible bad luck has happened to me. I only hope that my bad luck will fend off future bad luck situations for other people."
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/02/BAT01D7H71.DTL&tsp=1#ixzz0mzJfSa5D
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