Robberies, armed robberies and assaults on the elderly for no apparent reason. Chinatown or Chinatown of U.S, they are experiencing a wave of crime that has led their neighbors to organize themselves into self-defense patrols and to denounce a type of racism that is often overlooked.
In Oakland’s Chinatown (California), one of the most affected by violence, about twenty young Asians who call themselves “Asians With Attitudes” (Asians with character) meet almost every day to walk the streets of the neighborhood, talk with the shopkeepers and make sure that no one commits crimes, all this, they say, without carrying firearms.
Dressed in black T-shirts and masks emblazoned with the group’s logo, the teenagers follow their leader, the burly Jimmy Bounpheng, through the streets of Chinatown, imposing in his baggy clothes, a cap with a reversed visor and a large gold pendant.
“I want you to know that we are here for you, so that it does not happen again”, Jimmy talks to the owner of a store in the heart of Chinatown selling everything from sneakers to kitchen utensils.
“Thank you very much, thank you very much”, She answers while nodding her head, and affirms, in response to a question from GLM, that she feels safer since receiving visits from the patrol.
Since the beginning of the pandemic of COVID-19, but very especially in these first months of 2021, videos of violent attacks on elderly people with oriental features have happened on the internet, in some cases to steal money or other possessions and in others, for no apparent reason, only to cause harm.
A man died after being rammed
This last category includes two of the episodes that have raised the most outrage: that of Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, who died after being brutally attacked in San Francisco by Antoine Watson, 19 years old; and that of a 91-year-old man who was pushed to the ground from behind in broad daylight in Oakland’s Chinatown.
“In the last few weeks alone there have been more than a dozen attacks on the elderly,” Leanna Louie, a veteran of the US Army and one of the founders of the United Peace Corps, made up of volunteer citizens who patrol the Chinatown of San Francisco, explains to GLM.
“This is nothing new. Attacks on Asian Americans have occurred since 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act. We have always been blamed for being the ones taking other people’s jobs. But that’s not true, we are willing to do jobs that a lot of other people don’t want to do”, aim Louie.
Despite having ancient roots, the problem has worsened in recent times, and has also acquired an even more racial tone due to the fact that a large part of the aggressors of Asian elderly people – including those in the two cases mentioned above – are young African Americans.
After a year, 2020, in which racial tensions reached the highest point over the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman, many in the Asian community now feel that these attacks are also motivated by a racism of which hardly any speaks.
However, activists for social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement (“Black lives matter”) they warn against the risk of confronting two communities of racial minorities that, in their opinion, should collaborate.
Asian American Tracy Wong participates in a rally to raise awareness about violence against Asians near the “Chinatown” of Los Angeles, California. (RINGO CHIU/AFP)
Support for African Americans
“I have come here to support the Asian community against violence and let them know that not everyone feels this hatred and animosity towards them” Carolyn Ransom-Scott, an African-American nun who comes to Oakland to patrol with Asian vigilantes, tells GLM.
Although well received by shopkeepers and the community in general, these patrols are viewed with concern by the Police, who last week asked neighbors not to arm themselves after a merchant was arrested for shooting several times at a thief who he stole the camera from photographing a passerby.
No one was injured in the incident and the thief managed to flee with the camera, but Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong warned that “When guns are fired there may be collateral victims” and asked the neighbors to be “Good witnesses” instead of vigilantes.
Since the beginning of the new coronavirus pandemic, attacks against citizens of Asian origin have exploded. The Stop AAPI Hate campaign, which documents cases of racial violence, received 2,808 reports of cases against asian americans between last March and December.
For its part, the New York Police Department has indicated that hate crimes against this minority grew by 1,900 percent in the city in all of 2020.