California DA responds to attacks against elderly Asians, as activists claim coronavirus pandemic to blame

Police set up patrols amid increase of attacks on elderly in Oakland

91-year-old man violently pushed to the ground. The suspect has been arrested.

A northern California district attorney announced Monday that a new special response unit was created in the wake of recent attacks against Asians, particularly elderly Asians, in Oakland’s Chinatown, as activists have argued that other violence in San Francisco and New York shows a pattern of abuse related to blame placed on the Asian American community for the coronavirus pandemic.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the inception of a special task force, saying during a news conference in Oakland’s Chinatown Monday that the “rapid increase in criminal acts targeted against members of the Asian community, particularly Chinese Americans, who live and work in Alameda County, is intolerable.”

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“It’s not unique to Chinatown or to the Asian community the increase in crime we’ve seen across the city and across the county, but we have seen in the last several weeks and month a very specific increase in crimes committed against Asians,” O’Malley said. “To still be calling it ‘Chinese virus,’ things like that, that fuels hate and fuels aggression and that hate and aggression results in many times – sometimes it’s words – but a lot of times it’s through committing assault or other types of crimes.”

The Oakland Police Department has reallocated resources and is stepping up patrols ahead of the Lunar New Year this coming Friday.

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly described the coronavirus or COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” a reference to its outbreak from Wuhan, China. Just six days after taking office, President Biden issued a memorandum condemning “inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric” that has put Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons, families, communities and businesses at risk during the pandemic.

Asked whether Biden has seen recent videos from Oakland, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing Monday that she was not aware whether the president has seen the videos, but “he is concerned about the discrimination against, the actions against the Asian American community, which is why he signed the executive order and why he’s been outspoken in making clear that attacks, verbal attacks, any attacks of any form, are unacceptable and we need to work together to address them.”

John C. Yang, the president and executive director of the civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, claimed at the press conference in Oakland Monday that there has been a rise in anti-Asian attacks over the past year, but there is limited crime data showing the trend because people are afraid to come forward to report the crimes.

“It’s absolutely tragic, and unfortunately this has been a trend we’ve seen over this past year with respect to anti-Asian violence, and a lot of it stemming from rhetoric that we have seen related to the coronavirus,” Yang said. 

O’Malley’s office charged 28-year-old Yahya Muslim with assault and great bodily injury for shoving a 91-year-old man to the ground at 8th and Harrison streets on Jan. 31. Muslim had two prior assault convictions, prosecutors said. 

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Video released by police also showed he later approached a 60-year-old man and 55-year-old woman on the same street and pushed them from behind as they were walking. All three victims received medical attention at local hospital for their injuries.

Another surveillance video inside a convenience store showed a suspect identified by police as 22-year-old Deveion Lamont Byrd walking up behind an 80-year-old woman before grabbing two $100 bills from her hands as she went to pay at the register and running off.

Several brazen assaults captured on camera went viral on social media, and actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu were offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

“My dad is 91 years old,” Wu, who grew up in Orinda, said at the press conference in Oakland. “To have to think about something like that happening to my father is just unimaginable.”

“Racist rhetoric from the pandemic has targeted us for being the reason of the coronavirus,” he continued. “Asians across the board have been targeted by racial slurs, by being attacked, by being pushed around, being spat on. Outside of San Francisco, in LA, in New York, these incidents are happening all over the country.”

An elderly man from Thailand was targeted in another startling attack that went viral on social media after happening in broad daylight in San Francisco’s Anza Vista neighborhood on Jan. 28. A neighbor’s surveillance camera captured the moments a man abruptly ran toward 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee standing outside his garage, violently knocking him to the ground before walking off.

Ratanapakdee died at the hospital two days later. His family members told KTVU Fox 2 that they believe the attack was racially motivated and is linked to blame placed on Asians for the pandemic.

On Feb. 1, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced that 19-year-old Antoine Watson would be charged with murder and elder abuse causing death in connection to Ratanapakdee’s death.

The murder of Ratanapakdee “has been especially painful to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, which has been victimized by many incidents of violence, hate and racism since the start of the pandemic,” the district attorney’s office said. 

“This was a horrific, senseless attack, and I send my deepest condolences to the Ratanapakdee family for this unthinkable pain,” Boudin added in a statement. “My heart goes out to the entire AAPI community for the harm and fear this tragedy has inflicted.”

The attacks were first spotlighted on social media by activist Amanda Nguyen. She also highlighted an attack against Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino man who was slashed in the face during a confrontation on a New York City subway on Feb. 3.

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NYPD continues to search for the assailant, but, so far, officials have not mentioned race as a factor in the attack. Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to recognize a crime problem, and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said transit crime is down, WABC reported.

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