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"The Hell Is Wrong With Us?" Newsom Blasts Anti-Asian Hate Incidents In Meeting With AAPI Leaders

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Amid a wave of attacks on Asians in the Bay Area and across the U.S., California Gov. Gavin Newsom met with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community leaders in San Francisco Friday to condemn the acts and commit to working with them to combat racism. (3/19/21)

Video Transcript

JENNY LEUNG: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon members of the press. My name is Jenny Leung I'm the executive director of the Chinese Culture Center. I want to welcome everyone to a safe space for Asian women and LGBTQ equality. We have been a bold voice for social justice through the arts.

I want to welcome my fellow colleague, Co-Executive Director of the Chinese for Affirmative Action Cynthia Choi.

CYNTHIA CHEN: Thank you. Thank you. My name is Cynthia Chen. I'm the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. And also our organization is one of the founding partners of Stop AAPI Hate. We are the leading aggregator in response to the surge in anti-Asian racism sparked by COVID and the racialization of COVID.

Today we have close to 3,800 incidents of verbal and physical attacks against the Asian American community. We have documented that women were more than twice as likely to be harassed and verbally abused, and we are seeing the intersections of racism and sexism being played out. And certainly what happened in the Atlanta area is a reminder that this is the experience of Asian women.

One of the things I want to point out for all of you today is that close to 1,700 of the incidents are coming from California alone. So we are very grateful to the governor for listening to what we have been experiencing for so long, violence and crime and racial bias. This is not a new experience. In fact, there is historic precedence right here in San Francisco, in California, and throughout the country. And we are asking for a whole-of-society and whole-of-government response.

We have schools reopening where parents are fearful that their children will be bullied and encounter racism. We have private businesses that are fearful that if they are Asian owned and have primarily Asian employees, will they be targeted? And the fact that we have so many vulnerable members of our community that feel unsafe being in public spaces, that should be a concern to not just the Asian American community but to everyone.

So we're grateful that, again, we have the leadership of Assembly Member David Chiu and so many members of the API Legislative Caucus. And I'm very happy to invite him up next.

DAVID CHIU: Good afternoon. Let me first start by thanking the community leaders who are assembled today who really have been on the front line of responding to the most significant anti-Asian set of attacks that we have experienced in our lifetime. And we want to welcome, of course, Governor Newsom back to his hometown here in San Francisco but also here in Chinatown. The governor is intimately familiar and has deep ties to our community from his youth but certainly during his time as supervisor and as our mayor.

And I want to just note that today I understand reflects the one-year anniversary from when those of us who are Asian legislators had asked him to speak out over a year ago on what we saw as the beginning of this skyrocketing trend. And I believe he was one of the first if not the first governor in the United States to speak out against the hate that we saw a year ago in March of 2020.

So much has happened, obviously, in this past year, in recent months, in recent days, and we all very much appreciate the wide-ranging conversation we had about how we ensure that we are preventing these incidents in the future with appropriate community-based policing and other forms of patrolling our neighborhoods. How do we ensure real investigations and accountability of these incidents and these hate crimes as they occur? How do we ensure that we are putting victims and survivors first? How do we ensure that government, working with all of the other sectors, are bringing a comprehensive approach to this? And how do we think about this in the long term?

The community members here really have decades of experience in this that reflect the anguish of our community, the frustration of our community, the fears of our community, and how we are all, at this moment, compelled to act. We must do more. And we know that in partnership with the governor of our state of California, we can do that. So without further ado, I want to welcome our Governor of California, Gavin Newsom. Thank you.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Thank you, Assembly Member. Thank you for all your incredible leadership and, you know, not just quiet, very loud leadership for many, many years as it relates to the issue that brings us together today. I also want to just think any of the entire team, all of you for the incredible conversation, for your leadership, for your stewardship, for your devotion to the cause, again, that unites us. And that's the cause that we hold dear in California, many parts but one body. The most diverse state in the world's most diverse democracy, that's California, this city where I grew up in.

My kid's fifth-generation San Franciscan. It's a point of deep pride-- deep pride that I grew up in a city with over a third of its population of Asian descent. It's something I brag about everywhere I go, how privileged I have been to have had the opportunity to grow up with an appreciation, a respect, and an understanding of people from every conceivable walk of life. And to be able to do that in a way where people are living and advancing together across so many conceivable differences is a remarkable thing, and that's something we've got to hold dear.

We talk about that in the context of not tolerating diversity. We don't tolerate diversity. We celebrate that diversity. And so it breaks your heart-- doesn't just break your heart. It actually infuriates, I think, all of us the idea that people have to live in fear because of their race, their ethnicity, because of the language they speak, because of their age or gender. The idea that we are today in 2021 still having conversations we were having in 1881, a year before the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, is painful and infuriating at the same time. What the hell is wrong with us, you know?

This is something very familiar to folks in the Bay Area. It should be familiar to all of us. The Chinese Exclusion Act, its origins all came out of San Francisco. It came out of the East Bay. It came out of the Workingman's Party, Denis Kearney, with his caustic speeches that began and end by saying whatever else we do, the Chinese must go. It came out of the, you know, vestiges of an act that predated the Chinese Exclusion Act back in 1875, the Page Act, that excluded Chinese women [INAUDIBLE] immigrants to this country.

That's San Francisco scar. That's this state's scar. That's our nation's scar. And so we have to be mindful of that as we work through this current moment and the contemporary reality that has been exacerbated throughout this pandemic as this disease has been politicized, this disease has been used as a way to divide this country.

And we have to be mindful of the incredible damage that has been done over the last number of years and mindful of the work that now we must do to immediately call this out and condemn these acts of hate and violence and racial bigotry, the xenophobia. Call that out and demand that that ends, to hold folks accountable, those that are perpetuating acts of violence but also hold those accountable that are the quiet perpetrators of hate that may not necessarily associated with crimes but with the kind of bigotry that's often whispered or unspoken where someone's not getting served in a restaurant as they should or not getting the opportunity or privilege to get a return phone call because of the language they speak or their birth parents. We've got to start calling all of this out.

And so we have a lot of work to do, but I also am inspired by the work that is being done. And I made that point to these incredible leaders that are here, that the answer to so many of our problems resides in the work that you're already doing. It resides in each and every one of us, in our capacity to manifest and scale the solutions that demonstrably and uniquely are being advanced in this city, this region, this state of ours. But we just have to do more, and we have to demand better of each and every one of us.

This is not just about the Asian community. This is about who we are and what we represent. It should impact each and every one of us. Our lives are diminished in this concept. We have a responsibility to do more.

And so I just want to-- I want to express that. And forgive me. [INAUDIBLE] long-winded, circuitous comments. But, you know, as the assembly member said, I grew up in the city. I grew up-- so many of my friends-- just took for granted-- happened to be of Asian descent. And we saw firsthand the bigotry.

I remember appointing Chief Heather Fong, the first Chinese American woman to ever be police chief of this city. I still have the files of the hate letters. I still have some videos that would depress every damn one of you of the bigotry that came from within her department against her appointment. That wasn't that many years ago. We've got a lot of work to do. We have a responsibility to own up to our responsibility to do more and demand more, and I certainly am included in that as well.

And so I just, again, want to thank everybody for their commitment and for their fortitude and for your willingness to demand more and expect more. And I can just assure you we're going to do a lot more together. And, David, thank you. The assembly member has just been an extraordinary not partner in this, a leader in this. And he has got a lot of extraordinary ideas that I am looking forward to supporting and moving on quickly in the state.

So with that, we're here, of course, to answer any questions.

- Governor, some quick questions. One is could you-- will you blame someone specifically for, you know, this latest start or wave of bigotry or attacks against Asians? And second one, why would you say this has some influence or other people need to care about these attacks that are not Asian? For example, the Latino community.

GAVIN NEWSOM: The acts of violence and bigotry impact all of us because we're all part of one community. You can't-- I think it was Aristotle, you can't live a good life in an unjust society. There's no justice when we demean people because of their race or ethnicity because by definition we all are impacted.

And as a consequence, I think we all have a responsibility in the broader community to recognize our responsibility to support one another because I can assure you, these are very familiar themes in the Latino community, very familiar themes in the African American community, very familiar themes, obviously, in the Asian community, and we have to call all of these out.

The fact that the issues-- Black Lives Matter have come to the fore is extraordinary, and we're proud of Black Lives Matter movement. I certainly am. But these issues, the Asian community? They've been-- they have been hidden members of the community. Quite the contrary. They've just been raised in a greater consciousness because at the moment we're living in, certainly what happened in Atlanta, in the Atlanta area.

But look at the stats. 691 of these crimes occurred in our state out of the 3,800. And by the way, 3,800, is that a tenth or is it even, you know, even less that of the number of incidents that have occurred that haven't been reported? Those are just the ones that we know that have been reported. So this is serious, and it's real.

And, you know, this is a-- we're a majority-minority state. Our capacity to live together and advance together is what defines this state. It's what makes us great. And so we just-- you know, we're better than this. And, you know, again, forgive me for not being succinct in a response but more emotional in the context of the pain that's just impossible.

I'll just-- one final point on that. I have a incredible staffer, Angie Wei. She's our leg staffer, and we signed a bill a couple of days ago. And it was the day after this event and just happened to be a Zoom call, and everyone on the Zoom call was an Asian woman. And we all paused, and Angie starts crying because of what happened the night before. And it just-- and they all start crying. I start crying. I mean, this is emotional. It's not intellectual. You know, it impacts all of us, I mean, to see that pain because they've all experienced it.

I think she said that could have been my aunt. It could have been my mother. It could have been any one of us. You feel that, and, you know, you were expressing it in those terms as well.

- Governor, what does accountability look like to you? And then second question is do you think that this anger-- I mean, you talk about feeling it. But do you think this anger is being felt outside of the Asian American community?

GAVIN NEWSOM: I hope so, and that's what I'm trying to express. It needs to be. Who are we? We, the collective we. What makes a great society? You know, it doesn't work. Democracy doesn't work unless we figure out a way to work across our differences and celebrate the things that bind us together. And so you got to-- we just-- we have to continue to make the case anew. There is no having made it in terms of this issue.

And so it's generational. I mean, you talk about these kids coming back now. Parents are scared about the kids going back in in person, not because of the virus but because of hate. I can't even educate our kids in that respect. And so, you know, this is a-- it's not going to-- as the cameras go away and we sort of move past this moment and we forget about Trump and we try to deal with Trumpism, we have to be vigilant. This is something that's been with us for 150 years in this state, in this country. You know, we've got a lot of work to do.

And we've got a-- you know, media has responsibility and a role to play. We all do. It's not a critique. It's just an observation. We need leadership across the spectrum to tell a different story because there's just a lot of ignorance, not just hate. And most of the hate comes from ignorance. And so we just have a lot of work to educate people and to humanize and remind people that human condition unites all of us.

- Governor?

- There's been a lot of conversation about what's a hate crime versus what's a hate incident. Is there any legislative changes that you're anticipating or looking forward to around--

GAVIN NEWSOM: I'm going-- I'm going to have the assembly member-- we were just having this conversation, and he had some sophisticated thoughts.

DAVID CHIU: Sure. And by the way, these are thoughts that have come out of community. In fact, I would suggest you speak to the individuals from Stop Hate API about what's happening. But a hate crime is well defined in the California statute. What it typically requires is for you-- and I see this as a former prosecutor-- to not only prove, say, the act of violence but to prove the racial intent, which usually you can only prove if someone is screaming an epithet as they're shooting that gun. That's a very, very difficult standard.

But separate and apart from that is we know there are thousands of hate incidents that are occurring every day that are-- that are absolutely wrong and that may not rise to the technical definition of a hate crime but is something that we do not want to see in society-- thousands of incidents, whether it be vandalism or the racial epithets or discrimination that we see in retail environments or bullying that we see on the schoolyard.

So part of what we want to get across is it's important not just to address hate crimes but we also have to track and address at a root level hate incidents, to stamp that out. And we need to think of what are the short-term ways to track and understand that and what are the long-term ways to eradicate? So really critical conversation we're having within our community and beyond the community.

And to that point, there is a bill that I'm authoring with my colleague Al Muratsuchi from Los Angeles-- It's AB 557-- which would ask the Department of Justice to track both hate crimes and hate incidents so that we can think about the different types of public policies we need to both address what happened as well as assist the victims and the survivors after the fact. We can't just help folks who are the victims of severely violent incidents. We also have to help folks that are suffering trauma because of everything else I've just described.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Do you guys want to amplify that? Because this was a really important part of our conversation. Any of you? Forgive me for putting you on the spot.

CYNTHIA CHEN: Well, I think it is important just to stress what Assembly Member Chiu has made, which is according to our data, 90% to 95% are not hate crimes. And so if we approach this very narrowly, we are not going to address a majority of the incidents.

And I don't want to minimize the fact that individuals came onto our site telling us what happened to them, what happened to their elderly parents, and what happened to their children. These are traumatizing events. These are events that, at our core, make us feel unsafe, and that basic denial sense of safety of being able to leave your own home is something that we should all be concerned about.

And I would stress again that community-based efforts that are really leading by centering those who are directly impacted, especially those who are limited English speaking, who come from working-class communities, who have the lack of resources-- or who don't have the resources to really be able to navigate information and resources that they're entitled to is essential and the fact that we need government agencies, mental-health services in our education system as well as prevention and intervention efforts.

We are concerned, as was evidenced in the Atlanta area, that if we don't intervene, if we don't attack this in the way that we're trying to address this pandemic, matters will escalate, and that's a real concern because right now Asian Americans are on edge and really feeling for their safety right now.

I do want to just take a moment to say that what happened in the Atlanta area is being felt throughout the country and really throughout the world because anti-Asian racism has been a global issue. And I think that this is a moment for us to center those family members who are grieving at this moment, and this is another time for us to say what are we doing to support those families? Thank you.

- Governor, just a question on schools. Actually, two questions. So the CDC came out with new guidelines today that said that there should just three feet between students in schools, and some lawmakers are already asking the state to make that the guidance.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Yeah.

- What do you think of--

GAVIN NEWSOM: We've already been working on that. We already anticipated this announcement that came from the federal government, particularly after reading the Massachusetts study and working with our own health experts. As you know, our guidance is four to six feet. So we'll be updating that very, very shortly. Vast majority of that work has already been done. Now we're socializing more of those details with folks throughout the education system but also throughout our health-care system up and down the state.

- OK, and then also just a question about Zoom fatigue because [INAUDIBLE] a couple times [INAUDIBLE].

GAVIN NEWSOM: Yeah. That's my Dutch, says I hate Zoom school and can't take it anymore. He's five. My son, if you're wondering.

- [INAUDIBLE] school for-- since like October, right? So is it disingenuous to say that they're having Zoom fatigue as a way to kind of--

GAVIN NEWSOM: No. They've had-- they've been in and out. They've been in and out, and they had months where they were only doing Zoom school. So that's just the experience that's a lived experience for me, so I have firsthand understanding. But I also have a lot of friends, family with kids that are just getting back into school. Tons of our staff members expressed the exact same thing.

- Governor, a question about vaccines.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Oh, sorry. I'm sorry.

- Hi. Governor, with the school reopening, so what do you do to avoid hate [INAUDIBLE] school [INAUDIBLE]?

GAVIN NEWSOM: So schools play an outsized role, and so obviously having educators that are educating people on these issues is important but also having a curriculum that actually talks in historic terms and livens a different type of framework and conversation and consciousness is also important.

Just yesterday, the state school board unanimously passed curriculum around ethnic studies, and I think fundamentally that will advance this cause. We have a bill. We've been making some amendments. We've been strengthening the bill, addressing some of the concerns of last year's bill. That likely will be coming on my desk in the next number of weeks, not a month or so. And I think that will also be very meaningful to codify the work and make it mandatory across the state of California.

So I think the ethnic-studies bill and also just having parents and teachers and educators more broadly be more conscious of what's happening outside those school doors and making sure the environment within the classroom is safe and people are able to express themselves regardless of their race or ethnicity.

- Governor, you talk about accountability. And many times when criminals who [INAUDIBLE], they were arrested and then released. What are you [INAUDIBLE]?

GAVIN NEWSOM: Well, I mean, so you've got to prosecute those that are perpetrating these acts of violence period, full stop. We have to be there for the victims and be supportive of the victims much more than we have been, candidly. And we've been talking about those issues. We were just talking about those a moment ago in terms of victim supports.

But also in terms of accountability, I think we also have to be accountable to educating, to addressing issues before they become issues. We talked about de-escalation. We talked about some novel programs that exist here in the Bay Area, particularly in a lot of our transit agencies, BART being one of them with these ambassadorship programs where people-- law enforcement-- the training of law enforcement, but they don't have the sidearms. And their advanced efforts on de-escalation are very sensitized issues of, in language, cultural competency. I think in all of that respect that's where accountability can be found.

Also accountability to support organizations and a grassroots perspective to more substantively address these issues bottom up, not just top down. So again, accountability comes in many different shapes. There's the criminal act, accountability if someone perpetuates a crime and holding that individual to account. But there's also accountability more broadly defined across the spectrum.

- Governor--