'We want to change things': Bay Area leaders take new steps to protect AAPI residents from hate crimes

Dismantling racism and promoting racial healing takes meaningful action and a fraction of that is at a community level. 

Anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. have surged 145% in 2020, but overall hate crimes are down by 6%, according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University of San Bernardino. 

Elected Bay Area leaders from San Francisco, south to San Mateo County, are taking action to deter these types of hate crimes.

In San Francisco, where several high-profile attacks against Asian Americans have occurred, hate crimes against that community are up 50% in the last year. But overall hate crime is down by 19%, data shows. 

Hate and harassment towards the Asian community has long existed, but data underscores what many community leaders have echoed, that there has been a rise in violence against them since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RELATED: Asian-Americans experienced largest single rise in severe online hate and harassment

"When this virus first was talked about, more than any other community, this community [Asian community] was discriminated against," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "Our leadership in the federal government tried to divide us with a number of comments made pertaining to the virus. The businesses in Chinatown suffered and we still have not recovered. In fact, in some ways, it feels that things have gotten worse." 

Breed said racist behavior has no place in the city and change must happen now.

In efforts to advance public safety in San Francisco and provide support to members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community, the city is creating community safety teams that will serve as a proactive presence providing outreach, support, and engagement. 

The community safety teams will begin working in five neighborhoods: Leland Avenue in Visitacion Valley, Grant and Stockton Streets in Chinatown, Clement Street in the Richmond, San Bruno Avenue in the Portola, Larkin, Eddy, Turk, Ellis, Golden Gate Streets in the Tenderloin. 

San Francisco is also extending its senior escort program, which pairs seniors up with someone to accompany them to medical appointments or to run errands such as the bank or grocery store.

"It’s a limited program to start because we want to make sure that immediately the seniors are not just isolated and so fearful that they would not leave their homes," said Annie Chung of the non-profit Self-Help for the Elderly.

This program is currently focused in Chinatown. The expansion of the program starts immediately, but officials are still trying to determine how to outfit escorts so that they’re easily identifiable.

Just south of the city, San Mateo County, officials gathered at Central Park in San Mateo in a sign of solidarity against hate. They collectively announced a "no-tolerance zone" for hate crimes stretching from Brisbane to Atherton.

"It is incomprehensible to me that my 74-year-old mother-in-law has to look over her shoulder anytime a stranger passes her by," said Mayor Eric Rodriquez, (D-San Mateo).

The San Mateo Board of Supervisors will vote in two weeks on the creation of the "no-tolerance" zone.

Officials said 30% of San Mateo County is comprised of members of the AAPI community.

The county district attorney is diverting money for a victims of hate crime fund, while others would like to create a database to better track hate crimes.

"We will not tolerate hate in San Mateo County," said county Board of Supervisors President David Canepa. Added San Mateo city Councilwoman Amourence Lee, "Our survival depends on solidarity. Our survival depends on speaking out."

But the problem of increasing hate crimes against the AAPI community isn’t just physical, it’s virtual as well.

An Anti-Defamation League survey finds the AAPI community has seen a 6% increase in online attacks year-to-date.

"Hate online is in some ways related to hate on the street. And so it’s not just words that can be dismissed. When it happens virtually it can happen in real life," said Seth Brysk, the ADL Central Pacific Region director.

Brysk said that the ADL is pushing a plan to hold social media platforms, and perpetrators, accountable for hate-based attacks that occur online.