Don't Use Anti-Asian Violence to Throw More Money at PoliceRoundup
tags: racism, violence, urban history, policing, Asian American History, Oakland, Economic Development
Crystal Jing Luo is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Virginia, where she is working on a dissertation about Asian American politics and economic globalization.
In August 2021, Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, stood inside Pacific Renaissance Plaza, a retail center at the heart of Chinatown in Oakland, Calif. There, in response to a spate of highly publicized attacks on Asian American people and businesses, Chan addressed Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D): “The situation is dire. … We want you to bring in the California Highway Patrol.”
Oakland became ground zero for the #StopAsianHate movement after footage of a pedestrian being assaulted went viral in February 2021. As similar robberies and assaults continued across the country, Chan became a fixture in mainstream media news coverage of anti-Asian attacks, championing more policing in response to what many considered hate crimes. Though this solution has been challenged by both Asian and non-Asian racial justice activists, it was embraced by politicians eager to look tough on crime and acts of racial hatred. In response to Chan’s plea, Oakland’s mayor asked for more CHP officers in the city, a request the governor granted.
Reacting to anti-Asian violence with pro-police rhetoric has served two related political projects: maintaining Asian Americans’ model minority status and defending Oakland Chinatown’s business interests. Both have their roots in the 1960s, when local politicians and wealthy community members embraced commercial development as a means of “saving” the East Bay city’s Chinatown from obsolescence. Oakland’s experience in the intervening decades, however, shows how commercial development has failed to serve both Chinatown’s own low-income residents and their noncommercial neighbors.
To understand how this dynamic emerged, we should look more carefully not only at the content of Chan’s August speech but also his choice of venue. Though Pacific Renaissance Plaza looks like any other shopping center, it was once conceived by city planners as the centerpiece of an ambitious redevelopment plan for Chinatown.
Oakland’s Chinatown was established in the 1870s as a place for Chinese laborers to live, shop and work. The neighborhood was most vibrant during the 1940s, when the defense industry elevated many Chinese Americans into jobs they were previously restricted from, creating a new professional class. However, after California repealed discriminatory housing laws in the 1950s, these professionals began leaving Oakland and its Chinatown for the suburbs. Around the same time, construction of Interstate 880 and a public transit system destroyed large sections of Chinatown and neighboring West Oakland, which was predominantly African American.
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