For months now, The City’s Chinese community has voiced fear that they’re increasingly targeted by criminals, but data revealed by San Francisco police this week shows it is actually the black community that disproportionately bears the brunt of aggravated assault and sexual assault.
That data also shows the broader Asian Pacific Islander community suffers disproportionately fewer robberies, burglaries, aggravated assaults and sexual assaults, compared to their population size in San Francisco.
To put it simply: The percentage of crime victims made up of members of the Asian community is far less than the percentage of their population in The City.
Still, city officials say the data also shows a rise in specific categories of crime including burglaries and robberies — including a slight, but rising, number of those crimes against the Asian community. While overall crime rates are down, the rise in those types of incidents may explain worries voiced from the Bayview to Chinatown, to the Sunset neighborhoods.
“To me, the bigger takeaway from that is that crime across many communities in The City has been on the increase. So it’s not limited to the Asian community,” Supervisor Gordon Mar told the San Francisco Examiner.
“That’s in contrast to what the police department represents at every opportunity, that crime statistics show there are decreasing incidents,” he said.
Mar, who represents the Sunset District, requested the San Francisco Police Department provide data on the ethnic breakdown of crimes after an outcry from the Chinese community over rising property crimes and assaults.
He told the Examiner he will soon introduce legislation to mandate that data be presented by San Francisco police more regularly.
Though city officials said individual crimes are always awful, data shows that broadly, it is possible fears that Chinese residents are being targeted are unfounded.
Asian Pacific Islanders represent 34 percent of San Francisco’s population, according to U.S. Census data, but across the board, they are underrepresented in records of victims from SFPD.
In 2019, only 14.5 percent of all burglary victims are Asian Pacific Islanders, 20 percent of robbery victims are Asian Pacific Islanders, 11.6 percent of aggravated assault victims are Asian Pacific Islanders, and 13.3 percent of sexual assault victims are Asian Pacific Islanders, according to the data revealed by SFPD this week.
Malcolm Yeung, deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, an influential community nonprofit that administers housing, acknowledged that the percentages of Asian people victimized in San Francisco are low, but said addressing the community’s feelings about crime is just as important as addressing the crime itself.
“I think data and perception are different things, and perception is critical,” he said. “Perception is what drives whether you’re willing to go out at night and spend your money, whether you’re willing to walk around in the daytime.”
“We don’t want members of any community to hole up because they’re scared,” he said.
That community alarm followed high-profile assaults against Chinese seniors, a series of home-invasion robberies and one particularly infamous daytime assault against a leader within the Chinatown Six Companies this summer. That organization traces its origins to the first Chinese immigrants to California, and the brutal beating of one of its chairmen in July shook the local Chinese community.
Robberies in particular incense Chinatown, where merchants have felt powerless.
“The people just come in, take something and walk out,” said Raymond Hong, owner and operator of Rainbow Express Photo, on Stockton Street.
Hong and more than 200 of his fellow merchants are in contact via social media service WeChat, and they constantly update each other on new robberies.
The updates are never-ending, Hong said. “It is horrible, it is really upsetting,” he said.
SFPD data does show some crimes in general are rising across The City: There were 4,585 robbery victims in 2016 and 4,924 robbery victims in 2018. That rise in victims includes members of the Asian Pacific Islander community.
There was a starker rise in burglaries: SFPD data revealed 7,658 burglary victims in 2016 and 9,160 burglary victims in 2018. Data for 2019 is available but only through August, now standing at 4,767 burglary victims.
In an email to Mar, SFPD Chief William Scott noted that the department’s crime-enforcement strategies are “Driven by data, investigative information and effective deployment of resources.” And as “a result of these strategies,” he wrote, violent crime has been reduced by 11 percent and property crime has decreased by 11 percent.
But Mar pushed back against Scott’s claims.
“The data does show the number of Asian victims in those categories has risen,” Mar said. “That validates the feelings of a lot of the community members.”
Still, the specific crimes plaguing San Franciscan communities drive the conversation.
Headlines in Chinese language newspapers the World Journal and Sing Tao Daily soon followed, chronicling in detail the concerns of the papers’ community. And as the San Francisco Examiner previously reported, the rise in perception of crime even led some Chinese neighborhood groups to start gun ownership education classes for self defense.
Yeung recommended SFPD try to increase its community ties to San Francisco’s Asian population to stem fears. Pius Lee, chair of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, recommended one more thing — cameras.
Though Mayor London Breed, in partnership with Supervisor Aaron Peskin and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, installed 18 new public safety cameras along Stockton Street after the prominent attacks this summer, Lee wants to see even more cameras blanket Chinatown.
“I want The City to encourage every property owner to install a camera in their home,” he said. “I encourage every property owner to get a camera in their house.”
While crimes against the Chinese community, and more broadly, the Asian Pacific Islander community, have driven much of the public conversation and concern in Chinese-language newspapers, SFPD’s data reveals black communities are disproportionately affected by crime.
Though the black community only makes up 5 percent of San Francisco’s population, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, 22 percent of aggravated assault victims so far in 2019 were black. And 17 percent of sexual assault victims so far in 2019 were black.
Only about 10 percent of robbery victims in 2019 were black, and about 3 percent of all burglary victims in 2019 so far were black.
The overrepresentation of black communities in crime victim statistics, but the loud conversation about the Chinese community, did not surprise Shawn Richard, executive director of Brothers Against Guns and a San Francisco native.
“That’s every day. I’m not surprised about it at all,” he told the Examiner. “It’s been going on for years, man. We just had an incident. An African American senior was just assaulted two weeks ago, in the Bayview, and we hadn’t heard anything about it” in the media.
Crimes against San Francisco’s most vulnerable ethnic community are often met by silence, he said.