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Racism in public offices poses great harm

By CHANG JUN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-24 11:22
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An attendee holds a sign after he marched to Chinatown from a "DC Rally for Collective Safety - Protect Asian/AAPI Communities," hosted by OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates, at McPherson Square in Washington on March 21, 2021 in Washington. [Photo/Agencies]

Two public figures in San Francisco — one the district attorney and the other a school board vice-president — recently stoked public outrage because of explicit or veiled racist words and deeds toward Asian Americans.

As worrisome and problematic as the disclosures are, they also raise awareness. If we want to erase racial discrimination from our society, we must clean the system, remove potential or existing racists from important positions and make sure they are barred from policymaking forever.

When commenting on the fatal attack on 84-year-old Thai immigrant Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was violently shoved to the pavement on Jan 28 and later died, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin dismissed speculation of a racial motivation by the suspect.

Boudin said, "It appears that the defendant (19-year-old Antoine Watson) was in some sort of a temper tantrum."

In surveillance-video footage, the suspect was recorded running up to the victim, whose head hit a driveway when he went down. The suspect later went back to his car to retrieve his cellphone and took photos of the dying man.

San Francisco resident Katherine Pospheny told NBC Bay Area TV that Ratanapakdee was "a man who has a kind heart and got attacked, got attacked just because he wants to go out for a walk in the morning".

A large crowd rallied outside the Hall of Justice in the city on Monday, where Watson was back in court for a hearing.

In another incident, Alison Collins, vice-president of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, reportedly posted social media threads in 2016 using racial slurs to accuse Asian Americans of adopting a "white supremacy" mindset to outpace their black counterparts.

Of Asian American teachers, students and parents, Collins wrote, "They use white supremacist thinking to assimilate and get ahead."

Scornful of Asian "tiger moms" and of Asians being considered "the model minority", Collins also wrote, "Where are the vocal Asians speaking up against Trump? Don't Asian Americans know they are on his list as well?" she tweeted. "Do they think they won't be deported? profiled? beaten? Being a house [n-word] is still being a [n-word]. You're still considered 'the help.'"

Tens of thousands of people last weekend took to the streets in major US cities — New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Pittsburgh and San Jose — to denounce the surge in violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic and urge an immediate halt to anti-Asian hatred.

Eric Lawson, Ratanapkadee's son-in-law, told the media, "I don't buy it for a second, not even for a second"' referring to Boudin's "excuse of a hissy fit" for the suspect. "He knew what he was doing."

Monthanus Ratanapkadee, daughter of the victim, added, "Temper tantrum? You can hit the car. You cannot kick a human or you cannot kill a human."

Mark Zhang, a San Francisco Bay Area resident, said prosecutors at this moment should be tough on criminals.

"San Francisco's top prosecutor is trying to whitewash an alleged killer like Watson. Isn't it ridiculous?" he said.

"In order to stop Asian hatred, we need to hold those criminals, murderers and Asian- haters accountable regardless of their color, race and background," Zhang added. "This approach is executable, reasonable and will be proven efficient."

Collins defended herself in a blog this week, saying, "A number of tweets and social media posts I made in 2016 have recently been highlighted. They have been taken out of context, both of that specific moment and the nuance of the conversation that took place." Specifically, she explained that they were written a month after President Donald Trump was elected.

"It was a time of processing, of fear among many communities with the unknown of how the next four years would unfold," Collins wrote.

However, elected officials in Sacramento and San Francisco joined hands with community leaders to press Collins to resign. "No matter the time, no matter the place, and no matter how long ago the tweets were written, there is no place for an elected leader in San Francisco who is creating and/or created hate statements and speeches," said an open letter released Saturday and signed by AAPI and local community leaders.

"There is no nuance or potential misunderstanding in these racial slurs," the statement continued. "School board policy cannot be made through the lens of anti-Asianness. Someone who denigrates broad swathes of our City's people has no place leading our schools and representing our students."

A petition on calling for Collins to resign had gained close to 2,800 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

"It is time to call out racism in our own City," the petition states. "Her words dehumanize Asians — our students, parents and teachers are not allowed to feel safe, accepted, or valued in our own school district. As an elected official, she must be held accountable for her actions."

Yes. Our school, the Asian American community, and the nation deserve better.

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