Why high-profile attacks on Asian SF communities rarely lead to hate crime charges


Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant district attorney who is now a spokesperson for the recall effort against Boudin, is also a former hate crimes prosecutor with the DA’s office. She said hate crime charges could have been pursued in Zhou’s case using the hateful slur captured on video.

“In my opinion, in this case, he hit the bar,” Jenkins said. “There were statements that made the intentions very clear, and [made] very clear motivations.

Grayson and Zhou ultimately did not participate in a restorative justice process together, as they had originally planned. This process would have seen the two men reconcile their differences, sit down together and talk about what happened. In their description of the purpose of the San Francisco Restorative Justice Collaborative, the DA’s office specifically highlights the method as a practice to encourage multiracial consensus and global racial solidarity, particularly aimed at repairing the relationship between Asian American communities and African Americans in San Francois.

In short, it was a process designed to deal with moments of hate like this.

Instead, authorities directed Grayson to another avenue of restorative justice: neighborhood courts. This is called a “diversion” program that emphasizes rehabilitation and encourages participants to assume their responsibilities.

Zhou and Grayson could not be reached for comment for this story.

Amerson, who was charged with second-degree robbery and inflicting injury on an elder, was released from his own engagement with a GPS-tracked ankle monitor. His case is still ongoing.

Notably, Amerson had no permanent home when he was arrested for attacking Zhou. He was “mostly transient,” his attorney wrote in a 2020 statement to the court. It was only after his arrest that he was able to find accommodation, his lawyer wrote, and he “is fine”.

Boudin touts hate crime charges, even when he dropped them

The question of when to charge hate crimes became a source of contention during the recall election against Boudin. In his own defense, Boudin pinned tweet highlights a video quoting the San Francisco Chronicle, “…beating an Asian father was a hate crime, Boudin decides.”

A screenshot of a No on H campaign ad featuring an article from the San Francisco Chronicle. (Courtesy of Chesa No on Campaign H)

But a review of court records by The Standard and KQED shows the hate crime he charged against suspect Sidney Hammond, who allegedly assaulted an Asian father with a stroller on April 30, 2021, was ultimately dropped.

The prosecutor’s office verified this and explained that after being charged, they received additional evidence that did not support the hate crime charges, including a San Francisco police officer stating in a report that the incidents were not motivated by hate. As such, the bureau was “ethically obligated” to reject hate crime enhancement.

And no hate-related charges have been brought against the suspect who kicked Liao off his walker at Tenderloin. According to the latest court documents, Ramos-Hernandez was referred for mental health treatment and released with a GPS tracking monitor.

The suspect who pushed Ratanapakdee to death, Antoine Watson, remains in custody and is charged with murder. No charges related to hate crimes have been filed.

Jenkins, who is one of Boudin’s harshest critics, stressed the importance of charging hate crimes, but also acknowledged that hate crimes are notoriously difficult to charge because they depend on the evidence of the victim. ‘intention.

“When you feel like you’re being targeted for that reason, they want to feel vindicated,” Jenkins said. She added that victims of crime want to see charges that truly capture and reflect “the full extent of someone’s conduct.”

But hate crimes are “one of the only charges that require the prosecutor’s office to prove the motive for the underlying crime,” she said. In other words, someone must have made a verbal statement regarding the identity of the victim, or show a clear pattern of targeting over time.

There are two cases charged with hate crimes, among the dozen reviewed by KQED and The Standard, and both reflect these trends.

A serial vandalism suspect, Derik Barreto, has been indicted by DA Boudin on nearly 30 counts of hate crimes when he allegedly targeted Asian-owned businesses, smashing their windows. Barreto provided a lengthy interview with police explicitly saying he had illusions “about the surveillance capabilities of the Chinese”, court documents reveal. In this case, Barreto verbally admitted to targeting Chinese-owned businesses.

But the judge handling the case ordered Barreto’s release, even though the prosecutor’s office objected to the decision. After missing his court date, he now faces a warrant for his arrest.

The other case where hate crime charges emerged involved a suspect who robbed several Asian women. The suspect, O’Sean Garcia, reportedly showed a tendency to target victims with the same racial identity. Garcia was also released, according to court records.

Data from the DA’s office showed that a total of 20 cases included hate crime charges in 2021, both stand-alone offenses and hate crime enhancements, which are added to felonies.

It is unclear how many of these 20 cases in 2021 are classified as anti-Asian as opposed to hate directed at other identities.

Of course, not all hate incidents are crimes, as the California Attorney General’s office explained in a memo explaining the difference between the two.

“The US Constitution permits hate speech so long as it does not interfere with the civil rights of others,” the office wrote in the notice. “While these acts are certainly hurtful, they do not rise to the level of criminal offenses and therefore cannot be prosecuted.”

Solving hate with community – and data

In mid-May, leaders of San Francisco’s Chinese and black communities gathered at a press conference at Third Baptist Church in the Western Addition to urge authorities to pursue more hate crime charges.

“Public safety is the birthright of every human being,” said SFPD Captain Yulanda Williams. “The exploitation of our Asia-Pacific island community will no longer be tolerated.”

Two Asian men and a black woman are seated at a long white table in a church gymnasium, facing left, addressing an offscreen crowd.
Yulanda Williams, an SFPD police captain speaking as a civilian, addresses anti-AAPI hate crimes during a press conference at the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco on May 9. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/KQED)

This joint press conference between black and Asian leaders of the Third Baptist Church was called with the idea that the black community should stand in solidarity with Asians by calling for more improvements in hate crimes, increasing the charges against suspects. But Tinisch Hollins, head of Californians for Safety and Justice, said sometimes people respond to crime with efforts that ultimately perpetuate racism and racial injustice.

“There’s a very real sense that there are populations of individuals who are causing problems and making the city and the community unsafe and less desirable,” Hollins said. “And black people, especially black men and boys, are at the top of the list.”

Indeed, the high-profile cases reviewed by KQED and the SF Standard feature a mix of suspects, of various ethnicities.

While public discussions around Asian communities frequently reference the need for more security — pushing that word, “security,” in particular — Hollins said it can be a socially acceptable code for kicking out black people.

“‘Public Safety’ right now I feel like that’s a very secretive way to call it,” she said. It also focuses solutions on incarceration instead of providing mental health support, housing, and education to those who may need it in order to reduce incentives for crime.

And, crucially, the research shows heavier charges — which hate crime improvements would lead to — and longer sentences don’t reduce crime.

Magnus Lofstrom, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said his research on Proposition 47, which reduced some felony thefts and drug offenses to misdemeanors, showed that reducing the prison population does not lead to an increase in violent crime.

Hollins grew up in the Bayview where Zhou was attacked, and said she was not surprised that early attempts to make peace between Zhou and Grayson were unsuccessful. Immigrants, she finds, tend to be wary of these kinds of restorative justice approaches, which need community support to really work.

“If we agreed at all that there are better ways to resolve the kind of social conflicts that arise in our communities, especially when racial tensions are involved,” she said, “you could have a lot more membership.”

Hate crimes and hate incidents are significantly underreported, Lofstrum added. Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrant communities face particular barriers to reporting due to insufficient language access.

Under-reporting is a phenomenon that state officials are trying to address.


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