Hate crimes bills backed by LGBTQ Asians move ahead in CA Legislature

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday August 11, 2022
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Andy Wong is director of advocacy for Chinese for Affirmative Action and helped organize the #SaferPlace social media campaign. Photo: Courtesy Andy Wong
Andy Wong is director of advocacy for Chinese for Affirmative Action and helped organize the #SaferPlace social media campaign. Photo: Courtesy Andy Wong

Two hate crimes bills backed by LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander Californians are moving forward in the state Legislature. They come amid a yearslong rise in street harassment and attacks motivated by racial bias toward API individuals.

Collectively called the No Place for Hate Campaign, the two bills moved out of their respective suspense files overseen by the appropriations committees of the two legislative chambers Thursday. The first to do so was Senate Bill 1161, authored by state Senator Dave Min (D-Costa Mesa), which is before the state Assembly having been passed by the state Senate earlier this legislative session.

Called "Improving Public Transit Ridership Safety" it aims to protect LGBTQ+ people, cisgender women, and other vulnerable public transit riders. The legislation would require California's 10 largest transit agencies, including LA Metro, BART, and Orange County Transportation Authority, to recognize street harassment as a rider safety concern, gather data, and create non-carceral solutions to prevent hate and harassment that occurs in their vehicles or at transit stops.

The full Assembly must now approve it before it can be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom to either sign into law or veto it. The deadline for sending bills to Newsom to sign is August 31.

Andy Wong, a gay Chinese American who is director of advocacy for Chinese for Affirmative Action, hailed the advancement of the bill on Twitter Thursday. He congratulated Min and "all the advocates for making this possible. And THANK YOU #CALeg leadership for championing the fight against hate & taking vital steps to keep transit riders safe."

Wong, 42, who lives in San Francisco's Lower Nob Hill neighborhood, has been verbally harassed due to his race over the last two years on several occasions walking near his apartment and had been subjected to homophobic slurs while riding the bus pre-pandemic. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in an earlier story, he didn't bother reporting the incidents to police since he wasn't violently attacked and verbal harassment doesn't receive a police response.

The second piece of legislation is Assembly Bill 2448 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and is titled "Expanding Civil Rights Protections at Businesses." If adopted, it would require large businesses to train their employees on how to protect, report, and respond to hate crimes for the safety of their customers.

It passed out of the Senate's suspense file August 11 and will now be taken up by the full Senate to vote on passing it and sending it on to Newsom for his signature. As Ting told the B.A.R. in mid-July, he is "very optimistic" of seeing the two bills be approved by state lawmakers.

"Hate crimes, unfortunately, have been on the rise," said Ting, as for why the legislation is needed.

Reported hate crimes in California increased 32.6% from 1,330 in 2020 to 1,763 in 2021, according to a report compiled by the California Attorney General's office and released in late June. Anti-Asian bias events rose from 89 in 2020 to 247 in 2021, an increase of 177.5%, noted the report.

But data collected over the last two years by the Chinese for Affirmative Action, AAPI Equity Alliance, and San Francisco State University's Asian American Studies Department suggest the number of incidents are much higher than the state's report suggests. The groups launched the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center in March 2020 and received reports on 11,500 hate incidents across the U.S. over the last two years.

An analysis of that data released in July noted that two in three reported incidents involve harassment, such as hate speech or inappropriate gestures, and cannot be considered hate crimes. California, with 4,333 incidents, accounted for the largest number reported to the center.

"The majority of hate incidents are non-criminal behaviors that contribute to an unwelcoming environment, such as spitting or the use of racial slurs," noted the report. "Many formal federal and state datasets often only capture hate crimes. By reporting on the broader category of hate incidents, Stop AAPI Hate is able to shed light on the non-criminal incidents that comprise the majority of hate incidents that AAPI communities face on a daily basis."

Just this month Gregory Chew, 70, a former member of San Francisco's arts, film and immigrants rights commissions, was punched and knocked to the ground while walking at night in the city's South of Market neighborhood. Sunday the police arrested Derrick Yearby, who has been charged with aggravated battery and elder abuse for allegedly attacking Chew.

Police are looking into if the incident was racially motivated, while Chew and others are calling for hate crimes charges to be filed against Yearby.

"There should be no place in San Francisco for this kind of violence, which in the last couple of years is disproportionately targeting seniors in our AAPI communities," stated gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents SOMA, after the news of Yearby's arrest. "San Francisco police reported a 567% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021. We must all do more to stop these attacks, and one way to deter violence like this is to send a strong message to would-be attackers that they'll be brought to justice in San Francisco."

For more information about the No Place for Hate Campaign, visit its website.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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