Militant Journalism

Bay Area elites attempt to divide and conquer in aftermath of violence against Asian residents

Photo: The PSL joined a demonstration against anti-Asian hate over the weekend in California and advocated for unity of all oppressed people against white supremacy

“If everyone had jobs, then nobody would need to steal or have time to be racist. When a country offers work for the people and makes sure everyone has enough to eat, crime wouldn’t happen. The safety in the U.S. is bad, because people are forced into doing such things.” — An elderly Chinese food-service worker, laid off and facing eviction in San Francisco, speaking to Liberation News

As anti-Asian violence and sentiment spikes nationwide, a string of violent assaults and robberies afflicting elderly Asians in the Bay Area is fueling outrage. Video from two separate, unprovoked attacks in Oakland and San Francisco, which left one dead and three others injured, was shared widely.

This prompted widespread condemnation and a range of responses from local figures. Authorities, news stations, and even celebrities have cynically sought to manipulate the fact that the attackers in these incidents were Black to drive a wedge between the two communities that are both under attack by the white supremacist system that dominates this country. These demagogues are criticizing those who want to defund the police, calling for increased policing, and framing the problem as one solvable by lengthy prison sentences or more mainstream media coverage. Notably, a pair of Asian actors offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of one attacker. 

By contrast, activists throughout the Bay Area have shown their solidarity by rallying to denounce the attacks, organizing rapidly to accompany elders in Chinatown. They reject anti-Black narratives, such as the illusion that police can be part of the solution.

Crowds of hundreds showed up to demonstrations in Oakland, San Francisco, San José, San Mateo, and other Bay Area cities with slogans such as “Black Asian Unity,” “We Keep Us Safe,” and “Love Our People, Heal Our Communities.” To date, 93 Asian organizations and nonprofits have signed a statement calling for unity between Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Pacific Islander communities; demanding the city government invest in basic needs and supportive services; and asserting that reliance on law enforcement has been “ineffective and disproportionately harmful to Black communities and other communities of color.”

The real threat to all oppressed communities comes from the rising tide of white supremacy and fascism in this country. Anyone trying to drive a wedge between Asian and Black workers at a moment like this of extreme danger from white supremacists makes this menace more potent.

What is lost in the coverage of city council infighting, ongoing attacks against Asians, and community responses thus far is the utter inhumanity and hypocrisy of elected, so-called leaders in government — from city administrators all the way up to the White House. Successive Democratic city administrations in the Bay Area have sown the roots of violence for generations by enacting policies that protect corporations and their profits. With every inflated police budget they approve, tax break they give to tech corporations, and homeless encampment they sweep, local politicians devastate Black and Asian communities all over the Bay. San Francisco and Oakland have the highest and 4th highest average rents in the United States, despite studies that suggest there are far more vacant homes than homeless people in the Bay Area. 

Both cities have also seen precipitous declines in their Black population, halved or worse from past decades. At the same time, their overwhelmingly Black homeless populations are experiencing explosive growth with Oakland’s doubling from 2015 to 2019. The City of Oakland’s unrelenting sweeps of curbside communities provide no viable alternatives and make the homeless more vulnerable in the middle of a pandemic. Violent crime and homicide, which primarily affect Black and Latino men, are spiking unreported all throughout Oakland — even as its unaccountable police force balloons in size and budget.

COVID-19 fatalities disproportionately affect Oakland’s Black population, which is also proportionally receiving the least number of vaccinations. Meanwhile, 30 percent of people in Oakland’s Chinatown live in poverty. The displacement and devastation Chinese businesses and workers in the Bay Area face during the pandemic is further magnified by COVID-driven xenophobia and racism perpetuated by U.S. media. In May 2020, 83 percent of California’s Asian American labor force with a high school degree or lower had filed for unemployment benefits with the California Employment Development Department. The EDD in 2021 contracted a private company — ID.me — which failed to offer services in any languages besides English and Spanish. 

Yahya Muslim, the 28-year-old Black man who assaulted three seniors in Oakland’s Chinatown, was apprehended some days after. Some, such as the two actors who offered the $25,000 bounty for identifying and arresting him, have called for attacks like these to be prosecuted as hate crimes. Muslim is one of Oakland’s many unhoused and mentally ill residents, with a court record and history in Alameda County. If Muslim is convicted or otherwise harshly sentenced, it will only perpetuate the same racist system that deeply disenfranchises the Black and Brown community in the Bay Area. It creates the false illusion of guaranteed safety for Asians across the United States. It deflects the blame for who is actually responsible for the explosion in, and unwellness of, Oakland’s homeless population, as well as who is to blame for the increased vulnerability of Asian communities during the pandemic.

The violence oppressing both Black and Asian communities is a symptom of capitalism, a system that puts profits over people. Capitalism is what impoverishes and displaces the unemployed and working people of the Bay Area, while its corporations and executives reap record profits. Its brutality cannot be fundamentally corrected by more news coverage, the election of different city officials, or the passage of policy. Politicians like President Joe Biden, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and even corporations like AirBnB have made proclamations against anti-Asian racism and offered their “solidarity” to movements such as Black Lives Matter. These hollow gestures are the ruling class’s attempt to obscure their own culpability. In reality, they create the violence that they condemn. Moreover, they command all the resources necessary to undo it by addressing it at its roots. 

During the pandemic, they could have prioritized human needs by canceling rents and mortgages, housing the homeless and paying workers to stay home. If they had done so, they could have saved communities and businesses, like those in Chinatown and all over the Bay Area, from widespread illness and displacement. Instead, California is one of the epicenters for COVID-19 deaths in the United States and is facing a tidal wave of evictions in the coming months. Capitalism is also why the news media reports sensationally on attacks with Black perpetrators and Asian victims, and fans the flames of imperialist war against China. At the same time they ignore police killings of unarmed Asians, or deportations of Asians. As the propaganda arm of the ruling class, the corporate media exists to pit communities of color against one another and obscure the true nature of the problems we face. Until we learn to resist capitalism, reject all its false narratives, and understand that it is the source of the harms all communities face, we will not be able to begin truly healing or keeping ourselves safe.

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