New America Media, News Report , Aaron Glantz SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The killing in Oakland of Tian Sheng Yu, 59, by two 18-year-old African-American men two weeks ago has inflamed tensions between the Bay Area's black and Chinese communities.
Coming after a series of attacks on and around the T streetcar line in San Francisco's Bay View-Hunters Point neighborhood, it's also raised fears in the Chinese community of a wave of black-on-Asian violence.
But while tensions between the two communities may be running high, crime statistics show such incidents are exceedingly rare.
"Oakland's recent high year for homicide was 2006, with 149 killings. All but six victims were black or Hispanic," noted Frank Zimring, who directs the Center for Studies of Criminal Justice at UC Berkeley.
While the race of every perpetrator is not known, Zimring guesses that there was at most one homicide with a black offender and an Asian victim.
"The resentment is probably not rare, but the victimizations are," he said.
In San Francisco, where Asians outnumber blacks by a factor of five to one, blacks are more than 10 times more likely to be homicide victims, according to a racial breakdown of homicide deaths provided to New America Media by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD).
Between January 2007 and April 14, 2010, the SFPD data shows, 129 African Americans were murdered in San Francisco compared to 12 Asians. Asians were also five times less likely to be killed than Latinos and half as likely to be murdered as whites.
Indeed, a San Francisco Chronicle log of murders in the city shows that from January 2007 through September 2009, not a single Asian person was murdered in the Bay View, and an examination of news reports around each killing shows little to suggest a pattern of black on Asian violence.
Taken together, the deaths of a relatively small number of Asians in the city fail to show any pattern at all. In the Richmond District, Rosuke Yoshioka, 46, the long-time owner of Sushi-Man in Japantown, was stabbed to death in the parking lot of an OfficeMax by another Asian man, Peter Fong, in an apparently random act of violence. In the Excelsior, a member of the Salvadoran MS-13 street gang was arrested for shooting and killing Philip Ng, 24, and his friend Ernad Joldic, 21, as they waited in their car for a pizza at 2 a.m. In the Marina, a Vietnamese woman, Mai Banh, was bludgeoned to death in her nail salon. Her husband, Jeff Nguyen, was arrested and quickly admitted to the murder, telling police that he went into a rage and beat her to death.
Unlike the killing of Tian Sheng Yu, none of these killings was front-page news, and none has inflamed community passions the way his killing has.
Part of the reason, some say, is that Yu's killing comes in the context of a series of daily incidents on city streets and its public transit system.
In January, Huan Chen, 83, was kicked and beaten as he left the Muni stop at Third and Oakdale in the Bay View. He died about two months later.
Then in March, five teenagers surrounded a 57-year-old woman at the same Muni stop. Surveillance camera video from the second incident shows one of her assailants grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her from the platform. A few days later, a group of teenagers assaulted a Muni rider on Third and Williams streets.
"Kids are tired of getting their iPods snatched and seniors are tired of being assaulted," said San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who has been attending meetings with the police department, district attorney, mayor's office, and community leaders since Yu's death.
Mar said he's optimistic that community pressure will lead to increased police enforcement but said he does not see signs that City Hall will take steps to reduce racial tensions.
"When we complain about being victimized, African Americans respond saying, 'We've been victimized for generations,'" he said. "That's not helpful in solving the problem."
Filmmaker Le Mun Wah, who's film "Color of Fear" explores racism between Asian and African-American communities, said tensions have been rising in part because Chinese Americans have been slowly changing the demographics of many Bay Area neighborhoods that were historically African-American.
"There's more tension between Asians and blacks in the Bay Area than between blacks and whites because there aren't many whites living in the Oakland flats or in Bay View-Hunters Point," he said. "We interact on a daily basis, but we don't interact with each other. We don't hire each other. We don't shop at each other's stores. We just tolerate each other."
In the absence of conversation, Wah said, stereotypes can take hold.
"African Americans see Asians buying up all these houses and opening liquor stores, and they think we're bringing all this money into the neighborhood and not contributing to it," he said. "At the same time, Asians have all of these stereotypes created by the white community."
For example, when he was in third grade, Wah said, his white teacher greeted him warmly on his first day at school, saying what a pleasure it was to have him in class, mentioning that she enjoyed teaching his older brother. When an African-American student walked into class on the first day of school, Wah recalled, the teacher said, "If I hear one word out of you, you're going to be kicked out."
"I thought, 'Wow,'" Wah said, "I guess he must have been a bad kid."
On the other hand, UC Berkeley Professor Frank Zimring said, "many low achieving minority kids in the Bay Area see Asian mobility and resent it."
Those stereotypes, Wah said, created by whites, are "instilled into us by our parents. They tell us to lock the doors when you go into a black community, they're going to kill you, they're going to rape you, et cetera."
The crime stats may point in another direction. But in the absence of communication, Wah said, it doesn't take much to spark a flashpoint between the two communities.
New America Media, News Report , Aaron Glantz
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The killing in Oakland of Tian Sheng Yu, 59, by two 18-year-old African-American men two weeks ago has inflamed tensions between the Bay Area's black and Chinese communities.