People walk along Market Street on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Is San Francisco racist?

Let’s face the reality of explicit racial bias and safety inequity

Recently, allegations of racial discrimination and racially charged crime stories have been plaguing Chinese language media in San Francisco. One of the stories, headlined “Even Mark Zuckerberg’s Wife Faces Racial Discrimination,” reported that Zuckerberg’s personal security chief, Liam Booth, was dismissed due to allegation of racial slurs against Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, who is a Chinese American.

Then there were sprinkles of crime stories with claims that Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans across San Francisco and in Chinatown, have been targeted as crime victims by suspects who were mostly African Americans.

Later, local Chinese newspapers covered Chinese American mayoral candidate Ellen Lee Zhou’s press event claiming Asian American are targeted as victims of crimes. She was quoted saying that most suspects in these crimes are African Americans and Latino Americans. Ellen Lee Zhou is running against incumbent Mayor London Breed, the City’s first African American woman mayor.

Zhou’s claim fueled racial bias and created tension. The tension intensified a few days later when an African American food delivery man (identified as Nathan Cole of Daly City) was shown in a video yelling racial slurs against a Chinese American woman (Sophia Shih) in the Sunset District, which was first reported by KTVU, then in Chinese language media.

To make matters worse, just two days after the incident in Sunset, two of Chinatown’s well known community leaders were beaten up and robbed allegedly by three African American suspects. This pushed the Chinese American Association of Commerce to buy ads in local Chinese newspapers and publish a letter to Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown. The letter pleaded for their attention to address safety in Chinatown and for the Chinese American community. The letter also described the robbery suspects as “gangster.”

No doubt, it is challenging to bring a true sense of justice to crime victims because our criminal justice system is complex and consists of systematic racial disparities and bias. I witnessed this first hand in 2007 when I was an aide to former Supervisor Sophie Maxwell who was the chair of the Public Safety Committee at the Board of Supervisors.

In that year, the City’s homicide rate hit triple digits, which meant averaging two homicides per week. Most homicides impacted the African American community in the City, and adding to that pain of losing so many lives was the tendency by some to dismiss the killings because they were “black on black.” That seemed to serve as an excuse for silence among many in the affluent and non-black communities, while many others desperately fought for more equitable services to support the African American community in San Francisco.

The City will be establishing an Office of Racial Equity, it is a great opportunity to examine whether or not the City’s safety and emergency services are equitably provided among communities of color including those with language and cultural barriers. And I certainly hope that this Office will also have the resources to offer racial bias education and outreach to communities of color to deal with the reality that there is explicit racial bias within communities of color too.

It is evident that like many things, safety has not been an equitably-shared resource among communities of color, and this lack of equity has long pitted communities of color against each other. Will San Franciscans finally be willing to make our social justice bumper sticker slogans into a reality?

Connie Chan has worked for more than a decade as a communications and policy advisor. In that time she has held positions with the District Attorney’s Office, Recreation and Parks and City College of San Francisco, and has served as a legislative aide to two city supervisors. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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