Covering the Police is a collaboration with U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
A longstanding reticence to report crimes in San Francisco’s Asian community has been compounded by President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant attacks, according to police and local nonprofits who work with the population.
This fear has always been present, said Rex Tabora, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Community Center. But, “with the type of messaging that’s coming out of the White House right now,” he went on, “[it] increased by a thousand-fold.”
Capt. Joseph McFadden, who will be leaving the Ingleside station next week, said that SFPD is working to ensure that immigrants in the Asian community know that San Francisco is a sanctuary city whose police department does not disclose information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The department is trying to achieve this both by word of mouth and through announcements in Asian American media outlets.
“In San Francisco, we don’t care what your immigration status is,” McFadden said. “We don’t work with ICE.”
McFadden and Tabora said they hope these assurances will reach the Asian community and encourage people to go to the police when they’ve been a victim of crime.
For McFadden, this is practical — he can’t assign resources to an area without data showing that it’s needed.
“We want you to report,” he said. “It helps us put pins on the map. We need those stats.”
For Tabora, it’s more personal. While much of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric is focused on the country’s Latin American and Muslim communities, Tabora said the message has been internalized by San Francisco’s Asian immigrant populations.
Tabora’s organization works primarily with the community in Visitacion Valley, a quiet neighborhood along the city’s southern edge that’s bordered by Bayview-Hunters Point and the Sunnydale housing projects, two areas of relatively higher crime. Break-ins and muggings are common in the area, and many Asian residents feel targeted for these crimes.
Diana Yee, 31, whose Visitacion Valley home was broken into in a spate of burglaries on her street, said it’s a common generalization that Asian immigrants keep cash in their homes.
Tabora seconded this: “There is a belief that Asian people don’t like the banking system,” he said.
But this is a myth: “Ninety-nine percent of them” don’t keep cash at home, Tabora explained.
McFadden said that one problem he sees in the neighborhood is elderly Asian residents being robbed while waiting for the bus on Leland Avenue. “If you think about it from a crime point-of-view, they’re a perfect victim,” he said. In addition to their age, he added, they’re often “non-English speaking [and] don’t trust the police.”
McFadden said he would like to see a foot patrol established on Leland with officers who speak Cantonese and Mandarin. He’s made an effort to assign officers throughout the area who are fluent in either or both.
Tabora, however, said the ability to communicate with police in their own language may not be enough to encourage Asian immigrants — especially those who are undocumented or whose family members are — to report crimes.
“Even [talking to] a police officer from the same background, it’s still very scary for them,” Tabora said. “I’ve been told firsthand that, if they become the witness of a crime, they will not come forward. People are afraid to go out of their front door sometimes. It’s not healthy for our communities.”