Attacks on Asians stoke fear in Bay Area’s Chinatowns

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA (AP) — Police are stepping up their patrols and volunteers are increasing their street presence after several violent attacks on older Asians stoked fear in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Chinatowns and subdued the celebratory mood leading up to Lunar New Year.

City officials also have visited Chinatowns in San Francisco and Oakland this week to address residents’ safety concerns and condemn the violence. They vowed to combat a problem that has been simmering since the start of the coronavirus pandemic but sparked new outrage after two unprovoked attacks were caught on video within a span of days.

In one, a young man shoved Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground on January 28 as he was taking his morning walk in San Francisco’s Anza Vista neighbourhood. The 84-year-old Thai man’s head struck the pavement, and he died two days later in a hospital. Prosecutors charged a 19-year-old with murder and elder abuse.

On January 31, a security camera caught a man in a hooded sweatshirt barrelling into a 91-year-old Asian man in Oakland’s Chinatown, causing him to fall face-first into the pavement, narrowly missing a bike rack.

Police arrested the suspect and said he had assaulted a couple on the same block later that day and another on Febuary 1.

A masked worker cleans a street in the Chinatown district in San Francisco. PHOTO: AP

In just the last two weeks, authorities recorded 18 crimes against Asian Americans around Oakland’s Chinatown, said Nancy O’Malley, district attorney for Alameda County.

Community advocates said the attacks have left many older Asians fearful about going out to shop for the start of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in several East Asian countries that marks the beginning of the Chinese lunar calendar. Shops and restaurants are typically bustling in Chinatowns this time of year, but the pandemic and safety concerns have dampened the festive atmosphere.

“There’s a huge amount of sadness and rage in the community,” said Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network Alvina Wong. “Folks are on edge and tense and don’t know when the next thing is going to happen. They see what’s happening in other cities, and it’s not stopping.”

The recent attacks represent the latest spike in verbal and physical attacks against Asian Americans since the coronavirus, which emerged in China, reached the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, launched by two advocacy groups to encourage Asian Americans to report such incidents, has documented more than 3,000 attacks to date.