Violence in the Bayview — and solutions

Pub date May 25, 2010

By Chris Jackson

OPINION The outpouring of emotion surrounding the tragic death of Tian Sheng Yu — the elderly Chinese man who was savagely beaten to death by two African Americans — resonates with me. My family has been in the Bayview for more than 40 years, and I know firsthand the pain caused by street violence.

I, too, have witnessed what seems to be going on now: the polarizing of people who use race as a shorthand to determine who is dangerous and who is not. It’s a sad realization to see these sorts of divisions creep into the public discourse in San Francisco in 2010.

Let’s be clear. The Asian American community has every right to feel outrage over being targeted for violent attacks. As a black elected official, I am the first to stand with them in solidarity — violence against my neighbor is violence against me. Pure and simple.

But there is more to this story, as is often the case. For as it turns out, in San Francisco, African Americans are also prime targets of violent crime, and at a disturbing rate. My neighborhood is a good example of what’s going on. In District 10, which includes the southeastern part of the city, 36 percent of our residents are Asian American, and 28 percent are African-American. But if you take a look at the last 136 reported aggravated assaults, African Americans were targeted 89 times — that’s more than 68 percent of the total aggravated assaults.

Pitting one racial group against another is cowardly and wholly misguided. Recent reports of community meetings where inflammatory language is used to divide us by race do nothing to solve the underlying problems. The truth is, we are all suffering and need to work together to find solutions to make our community safer.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s legislation to mandate foot patrols is a good start. We need a real community policing model that emphasizes on-the-ground, respectful contact between the police and community members.

But our main focus should be on preventive measures. We need to expand drop-in center hours from one afternoon a week to five days a week beginning this summer. Crime happens every day, not just once a week.

Our youth should be put to work on neighborhood beautification projects. If young people are busy working to beautify their neighborhood, they will take more pride and personal responsibility for what happens in it.

We need to get back to the basics as well, and address the poor lighting that exists in areas of high crime. As a city, this is a cosmetic fix that can reap big rewards.

These are simple solutions, and the problems unleashed by Tian Sheng Yu’s death run far deeper. But every journey starts with a first step. Let’s just make sure that first step takes us forward, to a place of shared concern so we can all contribute to making our community safer.

Chris Jackson is an elected member of the Community College Board and lives in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.