SF police data shows 567% increase in reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA</span>
Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

Reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the city of San Francisco increased dramatically last year, according to new police data, in what law enforcement called an “alarming rise”.

Related: San Francisco's 'Caren Act' makes placing racist 911 calls a hate crime

Preliminary data from the San Francisco police department showed reports of incidents where police believe an anti-Asian bias played a role jumped from nine in 2020 to 60 in 2021, a 567% increase, in the city of 875,000 people.

San Francisco police warn the figures are probably an undercount because hate crime incidents are underreported. The department’s data is also considered preliminary since the California department of justice makes final determinations on data counts for hate crime reporting in the state.

One man is allegedly responsible for half of the reported incidents. According to local news reports, the man allegedly vandalized 20 separate stores across the city, mostly targeting Chinese-owned businesses.

The new data comes as several high-profile attacks and killings have placed renewed attention on violence affecting Asian Americans across the US. In March 2021, a gunman opened fire at several Atlanta massage parlors, killing eight people, including six Asian women. Reports of robberies, burglaries and deadly assaults on multiple elderly Asian Americans in the cities of Oakland and San Francisco left communities reeling.

Across the US more than 9,000 anti-Asian incidents were reported between March 2020 and June 2021. Reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans jumped during the pandemic, a rise experts have blamed in part on discriminatory rhetoric from Donald Trump, who repeatedly used racist terms in reference to Covid-19.

“We had a campaign and administration that openly appealed to racial resentment and xenophobia,” said Jack Chin, a professor at UC Davis law school. “The administration was repudiated in the election, but that didn’t go away just because Trump lost.”

In May 2021, Joe Biden signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, aimed at combatting the rise by expediting the review of hate crimes at the justice department and making grants available to help local law enforcement. After the mass shooting in Atlanta, police across the US, including San Francisco, increased patrols in Asian American communities. That presence may have helped increase reporting of bias incidents, Chin said.

“This is always the challenge to figure out whether an increase in reporting is an increase in incidents or whether it’s an increase in willingness to report,” he said. “It’s hard to say, but it’s absolutely the case people are more likely to report if they believe it’s worth their time to report in that police and prosecutors will care and will do something.”

Hate crimes have one of the San Francisco police department’s highest clearance rates for any crime, Bill Scott, the police chief, said. “We hope that sends a forceful message to would-be hate criminals considering any kind of bias-motivated attack in our city – San Francisco will hold you accountable.”

Along with anti-Asian hate incidents, domestic violence and gun violence in the most underserved communities have also risen during the pandemic. “The general level of resentment by everyone about everything is going up,” Chin said. “People are committing more acts of discourtesy, acts of violence. Everything from harsh language to shooting people over a parking spot.”