My cousin lives in South Sacramento, and when The Wife, my Dad, and I visited her this past summer, we had dinner in one of the many Asian themed restaurant and shopping areas there. Little did we know that South Sacramento was experiencing a wave of robberies at the time. After a drop in the number of robberies after a number of arrests, a recent string of robberies aimed at Asian Americans has revived fear in the area, and not just there, as Asian Americans in different places across the country feel targeted for theft.
In South Sacramento, a common robbery scenario is that Asian Americans are followed home and accosted when they got out of their cars. The video of one such robbery, excerpted above, has been widely publicized. Similar types of targeted crimes have occurred in other Central Valley areas like Fresno. Fears of robberies have been cited by Asian American business owners as causing a significant drop in their business. Other victims have been traumatized to the point where they have closed down their business. One issue is that many victims have been reluctant to report crimes, because of a cultural wariness of police or lack of English fluency. The woman who was robbed in the video above took three hours to report the crime.
Concerns about targeting have been multiplied by the featuring of a two year old video by rapper YG on Chinese language media. In this video, YG recommends robbing houses in Chinese neighborhoods because “they don’t believe in banks.” A petition was successful in getting the original video pulled off of YouTube, but a White House position requesting that the song be taken off of all public media was rejected by the White House for First Amendment reasons. Other stories widely publicized on Chinese Media read by many Asian Americans include stories about an Asian American woman in Georgia who shot an armed intruder in her home. and the video of that shooting when viral.
Are Asians Americans being targeted?
I don’t think that there is any doubt. Years ago, we wrote about youths who considered Asians “easy prey.” Indian Americans have been targeted for gold that they may keep at home. If you look at the robbery numbers by ethnicity in New York City in 2015 (look at Grand and Petit Larceny), you’ll see a big disparity between Asian robbery victims and robbery arrestees, which implies that most Asian are robbed by people of other non-Asians. In Silicon Valley, I have heard about an Asian neighborhood that was robbed enough times that the residents looked into making their community a gated one. In my own Asian neighborhood, my sister-in-law has been robbed, and The Daughter and her best friend were terrified when they surprised a burglar who thought no one was home.
For his part, YG says that his song isn’t about hating Asians but more autobiography – burglary targeting Asians is what kids of his area and generation did back then. That is also what the former robber in our previous article said. I don’t that really matters much – is there much of a difference being robbed because of perceived wealth or because you are disliked? YG’s song has seen renewed interest – it would seem that efforts to protest his video has lead to the Streisand effect, where trying to have something removed from the Internet brings even more attention to it.
So what are Asian Americans to do? It’s hard to control what other people will do, so it’s good to focus on actions and things that can be controlled. The Sacramento police recommend general tips that apply to any one, like being aware of your surroundings, not showing a lot of cash, or keeping lots of cash or valuables at home. I got an alarm system some time after the incident with The Daughter. South Sacramento residents started forming armed patrols coordinated through WeChat – a move not encouraged by the police and problematic to say the least if mistakes are made.
What really needs to be done is defeating the stereotype that all Asians are rich and easy pickings who won’t fight back or report the crime. It’s such a wrong stereotype about Asian American wealth – Asians in New York get targeted for robbery even though they have the highest poverty rate of ethnic groups in the city and some have to ride buses for money. In my neighborhood, plenty of people use banks, and there are a number that cater specifically to Asian Americans. Still, proving that Asian Americans are not all rich and don’t always have a lot of cash around is not as important as showing that Asian Americans will report crimes and work with the police. The Sacramento police held a number of community meetings encouraging residents to report suspicious activity right away and emphasizing that dispatchers there can handle 30 different languages. After The Daughter had her encounter with a burglar, she called police right away. While they didn’t catch the person, they did give us some suggestions to make our home more secure, which we have implemented.