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Chinatown leader garners support as Police Commission nominee

Larry Yee is a community fixture and telecommunications union organizer

A longtime Chinatown community leader and union organizer garnered support Monday in his bid to become the sole Chinese-American voice on San Francisco’s Police Commission.

Larry Yee, president of the Hop Wo Benevolent Association and a San Francisco native who grew up in the Ping Yuen housing projects, was nominated by Mayor London Breed last month to fill one of two empty seats on the seven-member police oversight body.

While a Board of Supervisors committee delayed voting on his nomination until next week because of a technicality, four supervisors — Aaron Peskin, Connie Chan, Rafael Mandelman and Gordon Mar — each signaled their support for him.

Yee appears to have been nominated because of his ties to the community. He has no apparent prior experience working with the criminal justice system, despite being named for a commission that sets police policy and imposes discipline against officers.

Peskin described Yee as an elder in the Chinatown community who he has known for more than two decades.

“He has served the city and county for many, many years in any number of capacities,” said Peskin, who represents Chinatown.

Yee made a career as a technician and supervisor for AT&T. He has been involved in “numerous discipline hearings” and set policy as secretary and treasurer for the Communications Workers of America Local 9410 since 2009, Yee said.

Yee also regulates licenses and works on policies for acupuncturists as a member of the California Acupuncture Board.

“These experiences prepare me for the Police Commission and will help me implement urgent reform needed in the Police Department,” Yee said.

His nomination comes at a time when San Francisco is again concerned about crimes against elderly Asian victims, including the deadly assault on Thai senior Vicha Ratanapakdee that drew national attention last month.

The attack on Ratanapakdee and another violent incident in Oakland’s Chinatown have together contributed to the perception that hate crimes are on the rise against Asian seniors.

However, authorities have said there is no evidence indicating Ratanapakdee’s killing was racially motivated.

Still, Chan pointed to the issue as an argument for Yee joining the commission.

“During this pandemic, we see that hate crimes against Asian Americans have been on the rise,” Chan said. “We desperately need a representative and an advocate for our community on the law enforcement-related issues.”

Yee also said there has been a “continued rise in anti-Asian attacks.”

“Today these attacks have only intensified,” Yee said. “Chinatown continues to hurt and the police have a unique role to play in stopping these hate crimes.”

Yee said that would require “difficult conversations,” calls for unity and investment in police reform.

“We cannot achieve that without adequate representation and right now there is not a single Chinese on the Police Commission despite the Chinese being one of the largest minority groups in all of San Francisco,” Yee said.

The Police Commission has been without a Chinese American representative since immigration attorney and professor Bill Ong Hing resigned in 2018 and was replaced by Commissioner John Hamasaki, a criminal defense attorney who is Japanese American.

Breed previously nominated Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung as a Chinese voice on the commission, but the Board of Supervisors rejected her appointment last June over concerns that she was not an aggressive police reformer.

Breed named Yee to the seat last held by Thomas Mazzucco for a term ending April 30, 2024. However, that seat is reserved for a retired judge or attorney with prior trial experience.

The Board of Supervisors is instead expected to consider Yee for another vacant seat that does not have any restrictions on prior qualifications. The Rules Committee delayed its vote on his nomination until next Monday to remedy the issue.

Yee would not be the first commissioner without direct experience in the justice system. Commission President Malia Cohen is a former city supervisor, while Commissioner Dion-Jay Brookter is the director of a community-based organization in the Bayview.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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