With one video capturing a February 22nd attack upon a 68-year-old Chinese immigrant in Bayview-Hunters Point, over a decade of community building is at risk of being wiped out.
Garnering national attention after being posted on Twitter, the disturbing clip shows one onlooker shouting “I hate Asians!” while an African-American man hits the elderly man with a metal bar. As a crowd surrounds and mocks the victim, he is chased away from his cart, filled with cans to be exchanged for money at a recycling plant to support his family. The incident vividly illustrates environmental injustice in every sense of its meaning – environmental, socioeconomic, and racial burdens inflicted upon low-income immigrant communities, sharply coming into focus through a single social media post.
One hopes this attack was an isolated incident. Even after the assault, the victim emphasized that there were several friendly people in that neighborhood, some of whom would set out their recyclables for him to collect. Moreover, social services and nonprofits that collaborate with different racial and ethnic communities, through multicultural programming, language translation, and cultural sensitivity training, have been ongoing for more than a decade in Bayview-Hunters Point.
Yet these attacks upon the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community are neither unique nor unprecedented. Going back to March 2010, several hundred Asian Americans marched on San Francisco’s City Hall to grieve and raise visibility for two incidents in Bayview-Hunters Point: a 83-year old Chinese man beaten to death by five boys on a Bayview street and a 57-year-old woman injured after being thrown off a Third Street Muni platform. Moreover, highly visible incidents of violence against API communities have occurred in the recent year, with another incident captured on video near the Stockton Street Tunnel on February 23, 2020.
This recent attack in Bayview-Hunters Point has occurred against a backdrop of disappearing recycling facilities and the changed economics of recycling. As hundreds of recycling centers in the Bay Area suddenly closed last year, recycling collectors have trekked to the edges of the city and struggled to exchange their containers for nickels and dimes. State legislative efforts are underway to shore up the recyclables market in California, but until a comprehensive fix, this economy will continue to sputter along.
In the short term, empathy and communal understanding is important for underemployed and unemployed individuals struggling to make ends meet in the Bay Area. As in the recent attack victim’s case, individuals collecting recyclables travel great distances on Muni or on foot to the few recycling centers that remain in the City. Whether through new recycling pilot projects or environmental policy fixes, equitable access to this economy must be acknowledged and respected.
Over the longer term, we also must continue to build multicultural programming and bridge the divide that exists in our communities. This programming ranges from education, job training, housing, to additional social services. For instance, the nonprofit Community Youth Center (CYC) opened its Bayview office in response to the attacks in 2010, and as a social services provider, CYC has continued to work for all members of the community since then. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that this attack did not stem from a cart of recyclables but from deeper underlying tensions between communities of Bayview-Hunters Point. Now more than ever, we will need the patience and dedication of hundreds of community workers to work across racial boundaries and neighborhoods of our city. Only through this hard work, will we then be able to build unity across diverse communities and create truly sustainable environments.
Eddie Ahn is the executive director of Brightline Defense and Sarah Wan is the executive director of Community Youth Center. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Examiner.