Leaders try to ease perceived ethnic tension

April 26, 2010 5:57:55 PM PDT
After several attacks, there is an effort to improve race relations in the Bay Area. The attacks, on both sides of the bay, involved young African-American men against Asian adults and two of those attacks ended tragically.

Police stress there's no evidence that any of the crimes was racially motivated, but community leaders wanted to address the perception among some Asian-Americans that they're being targeted

The most recent case that has galvanized the Bay Area Asian-American community was the beating death of 59-year-old Tian Sheng Yu in Oakland. But in the past few months, there have been other cases in San Francisco.

So on Monday, Mayor Gavin Newsom and 75 members of the Asian and African-American communities gathered to develop an anti-violence strategy.

"It heightens what I believe has been lying beneath the surface," Newsom said.

A recent vigil honored an 83-year-old Asian man who was beaten by a group of African-American teenagers in January in the Bayview neighborhood; he later died.

Last month, black kids threw a 57-year-old Asian woman off a Muni platform and the violence was captured on tape.

The head of San Francisco's NAACP, Rev. Amos Brown, condemns the violence but doesn't believe it symbolizes growing animosity between the two groups.

"The Asian community and the black community have more in common than that which would be the choice of one to superficially divide us," he said.

But Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, is hearing from Asians who feel targeted.

"People's perceptions are their realities and I don't think we should tell anybody their experiences aren't real," he said.

The issue is being talked about in the Bayview. This neighborhood, which was once predominantly African-American, is now more diverse. At the Golden City restaurant, the owner and customer Thomas Lindsey posed to show they can all get along.

Don Goodwin believes the attacks are about poverty and not race.

"I've been robbed before, so it's not a race thing. It's who they think is a victim," he said.

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon agrees violence is not exclusive to one group.

"In many cases, Chinese Americans have been the victims, but there are also many other cases where members of other groups that have been victimized over and over again," he said.

Newsom and others say there is real fear in the Asian community and the city is now going to work on short and long-term solutions, including a public education campaign.

"I think people need to see that this city is working together; that its leadership understands this issue, understands the fear and that we recognize we've got work to do," Newsom said.

Newsom and other leaders stressed that this is just the beginning. On Tuesday, the Asian-American community will hold an anti-violence rally on the steps of City Hall.


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