San Francisco D.A. in Conversation with USF Professor about Long History of AAPI Racism in the U.S.

By Lovepreet Dhinsa

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – District Attorney of San Francisco Chesa Boudin and USF School of Law Professor Bill Ong Hing held a Facebook live discussion about the long history of Anti-Asian racism in the United States this week.

USF Professor Hing currently teaches at the USF School of Law, has participated in the city’s Police Commission Committee, and has successfully published several books about racism and immigration.

Both Boudin and Hing voiced their condolences to Daunte Wright’s family.

DA Boudin stated “we are still watching the George Floyd trial and now not far from there we have another young Black individual, who died at the hands of police. We share your pain. Something has to change.”

Prof. Hing also expressed his sorrow and anger over the shooting, and wanted to point out the excuse of the taser. Hing, a former Police Commission Committee member in the city, led the opposition efforts against the adoption of a taser.

In large part, he attributed that to the inefficiency of the tool, as half of the time they do not work, and noted that law enforcement uses this as an excuse far too commonly.

The conversation then shifted to the cause of newfound attention and increase in hate crimes against the AAPI community. Boudin asked Hing to elaborate on the upsurge of these incidents.

Hing strongly believes that the cause of this upsurge is rooted in racism and hatred. He pointed out the APPI Hate Violence Program that has been keeping track of these actions, in which the program has measured 3,000 incidents in the past six months.

He attributes this upsurge in large part, but not entirely, to President Trump’s rhetoric at the beginning of the pandemic, when he began referencing the pandemic as the “China virus.”

Hing believes that some people use this rhetoric as a license to act, while others who may not be well-versed in what is happening might see a leader of a country saying these words and they might be compelled to act upon this in a similar manner.

Moderator Rachel Marshall briefly spoke about the consequences of these incidents in promoting division and undermining public safety. In light of this, the District Attorney’s office co-sponsored recently passed Bill SB 299, in an effort to ensure that victims of police violence are compensated and well-protected.

District Attorney Boudin further emphasized that these incidents are taken extremely seriously with a no tolerance policy for racially-motivated crimes.

Boudin acknowledged that although “the attention we are giving to these incidents is necessary, it is not new. This racism, violence, and bigotry is a long standing deep-rooted problem, and more effective tools are needed to address these issues.”

Prof. Hing was asked by the moderator to elaborate more on this long-standing issue of racism, and he acknowledged that although this attention to change is new, the racism and hatred toward these communities are not.

Hing cited the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1982, which stopped the flow of Chinese laborers into the U.S. However, many people forget the violence that led up to this Act, he said, explaining that there were several grassroots organizations and coalitions that started in the Bay Area to specifically target AAPI communities.

Professor Hing also referenced the 88 Chinese minors that were murdered that same year in California alone.

Similarly, in the 1870s, many homes of Chinese immigrants had been burned down in Antioch, and many Chinese were moved out of the city, where they could be monitored.

Following these incidents, Professor Hing referenced a U.S. spy plane that landed in China, who would return the plane. Due to this, many started boycotting Chinese restaurants and discriminating against Chinese artists, often mimicking and poking fun of their language.

Hing also noted the killing of Vincent China in Detroit by the hands of fellow autoworkers, due to concerns about competition and misled assumptions of killing a man that was “Asian-looking.” Hing stated that these crimes of competition have been fairly common, as many Asians are targeted for supposedly stealing jobs or opportunities.

Upon citing these references, DA Boudin mentioned that because of the “long and embarrassing history of the United States,” Chinatowns were created across the country in solidarity and as a safe haven.

Prof. Hing agreed with Boudin, as he stated that “while some Chinatowns were herded into these communities, others created them out of solidarity.” Hing agree that this is where Asian individuals went for aid, because they could not trust law enforcement for protection. He cited a statute held by the California Supreme Court previously that prevented Chinese immigrants from testifying in court.

The conversation then shifted as DA Boudin began asking Professor Hing about the challenges and opportunities we currently face in protecting our communities in San Francisco.

Professor Hing stated, “it begins with people like you. You have become much more than this event. It begins with leaders, elected officials, and other community leaders. And it takes these leaders to speak out against these incidents.” Professor Hing specifically mentioned the importance of standing up for individuals, whether it be standing up against a friend joking about racial groups, or setting examples of what our community is about.

The moderator then asked District Attorney Chesa Boudin about the challenges he faces in protecting these communities within San Francisco. While Boudin did not want to reference every effort made this year, he focused on the priorities that his office has at the moment, including language access, building/developing trust, and ongoing communication.

District Attorney Boudin emphasized the importance of helping Asian communities with language barriers, whether it be in regard to what is happening in a courtroom or asking for help when needed. In an effort to promote these priorities, he is hiring more Chinese-speaking staff and working to ensure that all services and resources that the office provides are accessible.

Boudin also stressed the need to build and develop trust.

As compared to a time when Chinese Americans could not testify in court and were not protected by law enforcement, he stressed the importance of informing the community that his office is available for them and the fact that the Asian Americans that seek help from Chinatowns can also seek help from his office.

Boudin also stressed the importance of ongoing communication, in ensuring that people actually understand what the office is doing for them.

Boudin said he believes that there is a lot of misinformation about what his office is doing or what cases they are prosecuting; however, in an effort to promote these priorities, he is attending weekly round table discussions with Chinese news outlets and community leaders.

Boudin stated that he was proactively reaching out to people in the community and working to improve communication efforts. He also emphasized the need of working on crime prevention, as victims already face loss when a racially-motivated crime is committed. Boudin also supports moving toward a cross-cultural understanding and working directly with the community.

Boudin also announced an upcoming summit taking place on May 14, where he will delve into these issues with other community members and critical thinkers. Boudin mentioned the importance of community feedback, in what they want to see from the office.

Hing acknowledged that the repetition of history is a key issue to be aware of and proactively commit to changing. He said he looks forward to working with Boudin’s office and holding future conversations.

In ending this discussion, Boudin said these discussions will be happening biweekly with different members of the community featured on the District Attorney’s Facebook page because, although “we have failed in the past, we cannot let that occur together. We must come together to fight against this.”

Lovepreet Dhinsa is a junior undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. She has a passion for criminal defense law, and strives to go to law school to fight for indigent clients. As such, she is also involved in her university’s mock trial program and student government.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Ron Oertel

    Wondering if the school board member who is suing her colleagues and the school district came up, in regard to her social media comments regarding Asians (and the actions that the school board took, as a result).

    Or, any Asian families who believe that some recent crimes should be charged as hate crimes.

    My guess is that would be a “no”. 🙂

    1. Ron Oertel

      By the way, I personally think that the comments made by the school board member are actually a missed opportunity (on the part of those concerned about racial issues) to more fully engage in honest discussion (rather than just “condemn”, or “ignore” – which seems to be the only two options, for some).


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