Over the last two months, elected officials across the Bay Area have spoken out against what they say is a rise in racism and incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
It's led to op-eds and resolutions condemning acts of verbal abuse and violence motivated by hate. Many political leaders marched alongside hundreds in downtown Mountain View this month to hammer home the message of anti-discrimination.
On Thursday, April 22, Mountain View city officials sought to turn words into action, laying out a strategy for curbing hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In tackling something as abstract as racism, council members on the city's Race Equity and Inclusion (REI) committee backed a multipronged approach focused on education, community forums and bystander training.
Recent concerns over racism against Asian Americans extend back to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Chinese restaurants saw a precipitous drop in business prior to the shutdown. The worry at the time was that Asian Americans were being unfairly linked to COVID-19, which originated in China.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, speaking to the committee Thursday, said this was the beginning of what has been sustained anti-Asian bigotry and violence across the country, and that it's only gotten more blatant and serious since then.
"It started out innocuously -- people not getting Chinese food -- and for more than a year we kept seeing this type of disinformation and stigma wrongfully associating Asian Americans with the virus," he said. "We see dirty looks, and then it becomes verbal assaults and of course now it's escalated to physical attacks and violence."
Lee spearheaded a resolution by the Board of Supervisors last month denouncing hatred and xenophobia against Asian Americans, but he grappled with what to do next. The document on its own does not solve the problem, he said.
"The very next day, on Wednesday morning, was when the Filipina woman was attacked at the Diridon station, at 6:30 in the morning -- not even 24 hours after we voted for it," Lee said. "A resolution is a good start, but it doesn't really have teeth to it in terms of action."
In April, the board took a small and early step in spending $10,000 on wristbands and lanyards with built-in lights and alarms, which will be distributed to elderly Asian Americans and other "at-risk" groups to act as a deterrent against attackers and alert those nearby.
Law enforcement could also play a critical role. Mountain View Police Chief Chris Hsiung said the city already has a police policy on the books for proactively reaching out to minority groups in the city and "affirmatively" investigating all reports of hate crimes. Once there's an inkling that the crime may have been motivated by bigotry against a protected class, Hsiung said a detective gets involved to do follow-up interviews and investigations. The goal is to have a case that's got enough evidence for prosecutors to successfully pursue hate crime charges.
The policy appears to be working. The city saw two highly publicized arrests in March -- one in downtown Mountain View and another in a McDonald's -- that led the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to file hate charges in both cases.
Lee cautioned that police departments don't need to respond by being tough on crime and incarcerating any and all offenders, and that officers could seize the moment to educate those who choose to act out of hate.
"It's not like everyone has to be arrested if they say something dumb and stupid and racist," he said. "But the fact that a police officer is taking it seriously and can talk to these individuals can help set the baseline for what's acceptable and what's not."
Council members on the committee supported the idea of hosting bystander training, in which residents would learn strategies and ways to intervene when they witness incidents of hate crimes. Councilman Lucas Ramirez made a pitch for bystander training, saying there's value in teaching the community how to respond when their neighbor is being assaulted.
"it can be really difficult. Even if you are a witnessing something that you know is wrong, it's hard to stand up," he said.
Other ideas included expanding the city's civic training program, the Spanish Language Civic Leadership Academy, to include a version for Mandarin-speaking residents, as well as launching a forum for residents to talk about their experiences as Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders.
Mayor Ellen Kamei said the city ought to consider a resource guide, including a phone number to call in incidents where they face bigotry or hate-fueled attacks. She noted that many Asian-owned businesses are reluctant to call 911, and could use an alternative to it that they can trust.
City officials say adding these anti-hate initiatives into the city's busy schedule will be difficult, and could not give a concrete timeline on the new proposals.