Many of the merchants and seniors in Chinatown are first-generation immigrants, but the Asian Americans attending the rally tended to be younger and born in the U.S. And many of them were mindful of the ongoing national and local movements calling for racial justice and police accountability in the wake of police killings of Black people last year, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others.
Many of the activists were concerned that viral videos of some of the recent Bay Area attacks – which show Black people hurting Asian American seniors – are unfairly stereotyping Black and African Americans as criminals.
Speakers, including Ener Chiu with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, denounced more police as the solution, arguing it pits minorities against one another and risks further endangering Black lives.
“Racial profiling is lazy,” Chiu told the crowd. “It escalates the tension that makes violence against people and property more likely. And it makes all of us less safe.”
Claire Jean Kim, a racial studies expert and professor at UC Irvine, says cases of Black violence against Asian Americans are few, and “even in those cases, it is not clear that there is racial motivation. On the other hand, there is a long history in the U.S. of white Americans attacking Asian Americans in times of crisis – World War II, U.S.-Japan trade tensions in the 1980s, etc.”
At the Feb. 13 rally, Chiu and others called for solutions that address the root causes of crime, like poverty, gentrification and lack of mental health services.
Eddy Zheng is the founder of the New Breath Foundation, a group that supports formerly incarcerated individuals like himself. Zheng said the Chinatown community gave him a second chance.
“People in the community still show me love because they believe in the power of transformation,” Zheng said. “Because people believe that prison is not the only solution for public safety.”