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Ignoring the public about safety

Thank you to the community members and activists who made this piece possible!

In this piece we're bringing you a recap of the 11/1/22 "Public Safety Townhall", hosted by District Attorney Elect Thien Ho, Sac Police Chief Kathy Lester, the Asian American Business Club (website linked here), Asian Resources Community Services (website linked here), and CAAPS (website linked here), at Asian Pearl Restaurant.

Prior to this townhall the following talking points were circulated by community activists:

- More law enforcement does not equal better safety - Police budgets and resources are currently at an all time high, and racial violence continues to increase - Many Asians and people of color, often our low income, undocumented, refugee, LGBTQ+, Black, non English speaking community members, have expressed discomfort and distrust of police - Many of our small businesses have not felt protected by law enforcement and have chosen not to report, which is why alternative non-LEO reporting options have been put out - Police do not prevent crime and typically only show up after it’s been committed - Data strongly supports bold investments in measures that address the root causes to crime and poverty such as quality education, housing, health care access, stronger wages and workforce protections, mental health crisis interventions, access to basic needs, etc - Health disparities in the Asian American community are often misunderstood due to poor data quality that reinforce racialized stereotypes about Asian health - Within the framework of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), the conversations about public health and public safety have become incredibly nuanced and much more complex generally, and also specific to the Asian American community; increasingly, our community is wary of law enforcement as it relates to public safety and community health: AAJA: For Asian American activists, police brutality, anti-Asian hate are two sides of the same coin Vox: Asian American communities grapple with whether police are the right answer to recent attacks Op-Ed: Anti-Asian Violence/Racism and Policing in the Asian American Community

The write-up below is based on a conversation this author had with activists within the Asian American community regarding the 11/1 townhall:

The main takeaway from this conversation: this event was not nuanced or intentional in its design, it was glaringly apparent that very little care had gone into its creation

So, who was on this "expert" panel?

The panel was composed of Sac PD Chief Kathy Lester, DA elect Thien Ho, the Sac County Sheriff, and the FBI. But also in a fun show of force (literally) the first 3-4 banquet tables providing seating for the "audience" were filled with cops; there was a literal buffer zone between the community and law enforcement "experts".

What community members attended the event?

The restaurant is located in Little Saigon; there were around 200 community members present, the majority of them being Chinese and Vietnamese elders.

How about public participation?

Well, in a predictable but still upsetting stipulation, everyone who attended the event had to give their name and phone number upon entering the event space. As you can imagine, immediately writing down your contact information does not create a safe space in regard to speaking your mind about law enforcement.

The actual panel discussion was very controlled. Any comments/questions from community members had to be written down on a piece of paper (paper & pens/pencils were not always readily available), collected by people working/volunteering with the orgs hosting the event, and then vetted by another event worker (to ensure that the comments were “respecting professionalism”) before finally being passed along to the panelists. So. Essentially no transparency or accessibility in the process, and no chance of actually holding any of the panelists accountable to the community.

Also, for all the insistence on "professionalism", there were no basic measures taken to facilitate a well-run meeting - for example - at no point were any attending members instructed to silence their phones.

What did the panelists actually say?

Overall the way that elders in the community were being spoken to be the panelists can be summarized in the following two words: infantilizing and condescending. They provided no space for actual real conversations about concerns over violence. They provided no space for nuance. There was a clear assumption that the community elders were not capable of having a nuanced conversation about their own experiences and solutions regarding public safety.

In fine form that evening was DA elect Thien Ho, you can find a couple examples below:

  • He stated: “I don’t care what you take from this - remember one thing - when you have been a victim of a crime call 911” - and he then made the crowd repeat after him

    • This enforces (aggressively) the idea that there are NO other options to calling 911

    • A message from the activists in attendance: to have an Asian person of authority get up in front of a crowd like that and dumb it down like that is very insulting

  • He was asked: what he was going to do about vandalism/theft prosecution regarding small businesses?

    • He said: he didn’t care if the crime was only “$5” he WOULD prosecute - emphasizing minor crimes

  • He told: very contrasting stories about what happens when you do call the cops and when you don't - clearly illustrating hypothetical binary scenarios and avoiding any insight as to perhaps why folks in the community don't report

  • During his campaign he used a lot of "progressive" buzzwords & tried to reflect back at the progressive AA community

    • For example - he spoke about wondering how he could leverage "ethnic studies" and "restorative" practices in his role as DA

This is what we expect from law enforcement though, right? They're not going to enter a space like this unless it's safe for them, and they have control over all aspects of it. Their message to the community was: CRIME = BAD, COPS = GOOD. An incredibly reductive, condescending, and patronizing way to speak to people - ESPECIALLY in 2022 after all the organizing in the Sacramento community alone demanding police accountability (at the very very least). It does serve a very valuable purpose in that it provides yet another documented example of what exactly law enforcement thinks of the the community members they "serve".

How were translation services handled?

One of the host organizations is a 501 c3 that received A LOT of money for anti Asian Hate work. The fact that they used so little of that money to invest in appropriate translation services for an event like this was unacceptable.

The cadence of the translators was fragmented, and panelists spoke in long bursts before allowing for translation, making the translations inaccurate. By the end of the event people in the audience weren't really paying attention, in large part because of the translation issues.

We need to demand these things from future events of this nature:

  • Organizations hosting the next event need to be held accountable for how the event is organized what is invested into it - especially if they have dollars allocated to implementing culturally informed and equitable practices in public safety - bringing cops into the local chinese banquet restaurant is not enough

  • Organizing bodies need to invest money into hiring competent translators

  • Make the event accessible virtually!

  • Ensure that the gathering is set at size that will actually allow effective engagement with the community, and pay attention to the power dynamics of the setting

  • Meet community where they’re at! Don’t make the event a pageant!

  • Prioritize the community

  • Actually invest in the folx attending - for example provide quality food and refreshments

  • Listen to experts in the community, involve the community and community orgs

  • Don’t treat community like they’re unable to understand

  • An understanding that there ARE alternatives to the opinions/views of law enforcement, and the curation of spaces where community members CAN express their own views and be heard - where those views can be examined

Come to the next townhall/public safety discussion!

SJPC will work to keep you informed about upcoming events!

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