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California Focus: Anti-Asian violence shows folly of defunding

There’s an old saying about traditions: Abandon a tradition, it tells us, and you will soon learn why it became one.

That’s what California cities are learning today, as city councils around the state have acted on the urging of Black Lives Matter protesters and diverted portions of their former police budgets to social action causes in previously underserved neighborhoods.

But the spate of anti-Asian violence now playing out in California communities as disparate as Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Leandro and Orange County dramatically shows this was folly.

The logical police response to on-street attacks ought to be more foot and squad car patrols, but that’s not happening in most places despite the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. So they continue, showing no signs of abating.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, this was not a big problem. Hate crimes against Asians were relatively few and far between. But a huge upswing began just about the time ex-President Donald Trump dubbed the coronavirus plague the “China virus.”

Around California, these crimes have far more than doubled over the last year, but no one can put a precise number on them. In San Francisco, they have at least tripled.

In Los Angeles, there have been more than twice as many this year as a year ago. But official numbers are likely far lower than in real life, partly because police don’t do much about the attacks.

Not even 700-person rallies decrying the attacks, like one the other day in San Jose, can stop them.

The head of a Southern California group called Asian-Americans Advancing Justice told one reporter many such crimes go unreported because of language problems, immigrants unable to communicate with police.

Plus, she said, “When victims … come forward, having the police say nothing can be done discourages other victims from relying on police.”

Some immigrant advocates also say Korean-Americans and other Asian groups are perceiving new bias among police officers, perhaps caused by the Trump rhetoric.

But the mere presence of cops on street patrol could have stopped one early March assault on an elderly Asian man who was seated in a Nob Hill laundromat in San Francisco when at attacker ambushed him.

Police presence probably would have spared the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai-American beaten to death in broad daylight, also in San Francisco.

Neither of their assailants has been identified, like most others conducting the current spate of attacks.

There are also less violent, but still threatening incidents. One Asian-American woman stopped at a red light the other day in Fresno and a man in the next car signaled she should roll down her window.

When she did, he shouted, “Get out of my country — that’s an order.” After pausing, he reportedly added, “I’ll kill you.”

All this is a demonstration that even a “model minority” noted for high achievement and founding large and successful businesses of many types can suddenly be targeted, especially when national leaders become loose-lipped about their own prejudices.

It also shows that not only California, but the entire nation needs effective policing to protect minorities who have no way to know when they might be victimized, even if their particular ethnic group enjoys generally high public esteem.

Because bigots have always picked on those they see as weak, this is especially important for elderly and frail individuals.

Yes, the pandemic appears to have originated in or near the Chinese city of Wuhan. But there is no evidence it was deliberately perpetrated on the world. The claim that it was amounts to a blood libel against Chinese individuals who would have been thousands of miles away even if deeds like this had been done.

Because most others have difficulty discerning Asians’ native nationalities simply from their appearance, all Asian-Americans are now at serious risk, especially if they don’t look strong, a la the Los Angeles Angels’ 6-foot, 4-inch, 210 pound Shohei Otani.

Police are their only assured protection from random violence and bigotry when they leave their homes.

And the fewer cops on the street, the more danger for them. Which is just one reason it makes little sense to defund police, as Americans are now discovering.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].