Days after three seniors were brutally attacked on video at a popular gathering spot in Chinatown, city leaders including Mayor London Breed and District Attorney-elect Chesa Boudin joined Chinese community members Tuesday to condemn the violence.
The violent robbery at Portsmouth Square on Saturday night struck fear into Chinatown and reinvigorated racial tensions in San Francisco. Widely shared video on social media showed the suspects pummelling one of the victims and knocking another senior unconscious.
The attack has drawn attention in light of a string of violent incidents against senior and elderly Chinese residents, including an 88-year-old grandmother who was brutally assaulted and robbed across from her home in Visitacion Valley in January.
Standing in front of a crowd of seniors at Portsmouth Square, Breed told reporters Tuesday that she would work with police and the district attorney to hold the perpetrators accountable. She also said anti-violence workers would reach out to neighborhoods including Chinatown.
“We are going to continue to make the right investments and do the work that needs to be done to make sure that people especially our seniors feel like they can walk down the street and not fear violence in any shape or form in this city,” Breed said.
“Treat people on the streets as if they are your relatives,” she continued. “Would you ever want someone to do what we have seen people do to your grandparents? Just think about that. And don’t make the wrong decision because we will do what we need to do to hold you accountable.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Boudin pledged to hold the perpetrators accountable if police make an arrest in the case when he is district attorney. Though Boudin won the election last week, the position is currently held by interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus.
“There is a wide range of criminal charges that could be filed based on that video,” Boudin said. “We need more information than the video alone provides us to determine whether this was a robbery, an assault or something else.”
“I don’t want to rush to judgment about what criminal charges or what sentence would be sought, but we absolutely need to take this crime seriously,” he said.
Once police make an arrest, Boudin said he would determine as district attorney whether the suspects are for instance repeat offenders on a robbery spree, or mentally ill.
“Either way, there are going to be consequences,” Boudin said. “But the kind of charges and the type of punishment we seek and the re-entry plan that we develop for whenever that person is going to be released, are going to depend critically on that context.”
Police Chief Bill Scott said police have not made an arrest in the case but that investigators are following leads including a description of the suspect vehicle. The suspects sped away in an early 2000s model Jeep Cherokee SUV that is gray or dark-gray, Scott said.
“It’s really important that the public knows that we are here,” Scott said. “When there is evidence that might lead to the identity of these types of criminals, because that’s what they are, bring it forward so that we can bring people to justice.”
Scott said he plans to work with the District Attorney’s Office on the case and had already spoken to Boudin about the incident Tuesday morning. He said Central Police Station has increased foot beats in Chinatown since the robbery Saturday.
Police have not released a detailed description of the suspects but Scott said that two of them were black men between the ages of 18 and 20. A third suspect is unknown.
Cynthia Choi of Chinese for Affirmative Action addressed the racial tensions spurred by the incident.
“The fact that our seniors and vulnerable community members were attacked is an assault on all of our sense of safety as a city,” Choi told reporters. “We need to come together as a city, as a community, and not let racial divides tear us apart.”