City, Community Leaders Convene Over Racial Tensions


(Bay City News Service) — A series of recent highly publicized crimes in San Francisco involving Chinese victims have heightened tensions between the Asian and black communities, prompting city leaders on April 26 to call for a more proactive approach to community policing and outreach from the city.

Following a lengthy meeting at City Hall with dozens of community leaders, mostly from neighborhoods in the Bayview District and Visitacion Valley, officials acknowledged fear in the Chinese community.

“It was a very sober, it was a very honest, a very reflective conversation,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Newsom was flanked at a City Hall news conference April 26 by Police Chief George Gascon, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, Supervisors Carmen Chu and Eric Mar, City Administrator Ed Lee, the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church, Assessor Phil Ting, and members of the Police Commission.

Newsom said those at the meeting unanimously “condemned the violence in this city” and acknowledged it was not unique to any one group.

On Jan. 24, several youths assaulted 83-year-old Huan Chen, after he left a bus stop at Third Street and Oakdale Avenue, police said. Chen, a San Francisco resident, died on March 19. Police are treating the incident as a homicide.

No arrests have been made, but Newsom and Gascon said that a reward will be offered in the coming days for information leading to an arrest.

On March 22, a 57-year-old Chinese woman was attacked by youths on a Muni platform at Third Street and Oakdale Avenue, according to police.

On April 17, a San Francisco Municipal Railway driver, who is Chinese, was attacked and beaten by youths while driving in Visitacion Valley, police said.

The driver had apparently tried to kick the group off for tagging the back of the bus with graffiti, according to police.

Police have made arrests in the latter two cases.

Newsom said there have been concerns that other crimes are going unreported.

“There are a lot of folks that are truly fearful,” Newsom said.

“At the end of the day, we know we need to work together,” he said.

Newsom said the city will engage in a “proactive effort” to reach out to ethnic groups not typically represented at community meetings and promised a greater police presence in neighborhoods of concern, including foot patrols and on Muni.

Gascon acknowledged the concerns of the Chinese community, many of whom believe race was a factor in the attacks, but stressed that there was not enough evidence in any of the cases to support “the legal definition of a hate crime.”

“There was clearly race, and race factors there,” Gascon said. He said the suspects in the first two attacks were black, and in the third case, black and Hispanic. A motive for the fatal attack is still unknown, Gascon said, and he categorized the motives for the other two as either attempted robbery or simply a “crime of opportunity.”

He also pointed out that the arrests were made as a result of reports by African American witnesses to the crimes.

“Good people in every community are working together in order to resolve these crimes,” Gascon said.

“We have work to do,” said Rev. Williams. “And we are going to continue to work, because we know that this city, this great city, operates from a position of diversity.”

“And we want a city that is diverse, always,” Williams said.

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