SAN FRANCISCO – From her flower stand on Market Street, Patricia Lee saw the reflection of a large blade and then the feathers of a winter jacket fly through the air. An older woman knelt down.
In broad daylight on one of San Francisco’s busiest streets, two unsuspecting Asian women, one of whom was 84, had just been attacked by a man with a large military-style knife, authorities and witnesses said.
“He walked right next to me – I could have been the one stabbed,” said Ms Lee, who witnessed the attack on Tuesday afternoon. Police have arrested a 54-year-old man, Patrick Thompson, who they say carried out the attack, although the motive remains unknown.
Mr. Thompson was charged on Wednesday with attempted murder. The two women were treated for their injuries at a San Francisco hospital and their conditions were described by police as not life threatening.
In recent months, Asian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area have been thrown to the ground, beaten and robbed – attacks that came amid a surge in anti-Asian hatred in across the country and Asian communities scapegoat for the spread. of the coronavirus.
Tuesday’s stabbing in San Francisco only added to the anxiety of much of the city’s population. San Francisco community organizations and police recently introduced a Mandarin and Cantonese hotline to report crimes and attacks.
“The community is reeling from the onslaught of brutality against helpless and fragile people,” said David Lee, a Chinese community activist in the city who is part of the same family association as the elderly victim. 84 years old. “It’s a testament to the violence, lawlessness, lack of civic responsibility and order on the streets of San Francisco right now.”
After a year of aggressive and effective measures against the coronavirus, San Francisco has opened up. About fifteen people were waiting at the bus stop on Tuesday where the two women were stabbed, a sign that the city is coming back to life. Still, many say the pandemic has contributed to two other crises: a drug overdose epidemic that has killed twice as many people in the city as the coronavirus last year, and the spate of violence against Asians.
Asian-American grandparents who spent months trapped inside during lockdowns are now afraid to go outside, said Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Chan has been one of the most prominent voices in the Chinese Bay Area community, which has expressed concern about the attacks. In a measure of how common they have become, Mr. Chan himself was assaulted on a street in Oakland last week. While on his way to the home of a 69-year-old Chinese man who was recovering from being attacked with a cane on a public bus, Mr. Chan was punched in the head by a man who called him racist insults.
“I am extremely concerned,” Chan said Wednesday of the continued violence against Asians. “We have to stand up no matter how many attacks and stop this madness.”
In many cases, police and prosecutors have struggled to establish a motive. A spokeswoman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Rachel Marshall said five people in the city have been charged with anti-Asian hate crimes this year. Others have been charged with elder abuse, including a 19-year-old man who was accused of fatally assaulting Vicha Ratanapakdee, a retired bank auditor from Thailand, on a cold January morning.
Numerous assaults have taken place in and around Tenderloin, a neighborhood that grapples with some of the city’s most intractable social issues, including people with mental illness and addiction who often live on the streets.
Two attacks in March by a man identified by police as Steven Jenkins, 39, illustrate the blurred ambiguity that street conditions can bring to some of these attacks.
Authorities said Mr Jenkins attacked a 75-year-old Chinese grandmother and an 83-year-old Vietnamese man, assaults that attracted national attention because the grandmother, Xiao Zhen Xie, fought Mr Jenkins with a small board. Mr. Jenkins was arrested and charged with assault, beatings and elder abuse. He pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers for Mr Jenkins said he had been homeless for a decade and suffered from mental illness. The public defender’s office released security camera footage showing a chaotic set of circumstances leading to the point where he attacked Ms. Xie. In the video, Mr. Jenkins is punched by several people before turning to punch Ms. Xie.
“There are a lot of desperate people out there now,” said Danny Yu Chang, a travel agent from the Philippines, who was knocked out by a mugger in March as he walked into his office in downtown San. Francisco after lunch.
“I think it’s safer now to stay at home,” Yu Chang said.
A relative of Mr Vicha, the retired bank auditor who was killed in January, said he saw a progression during the pandemic that started with Asians spat and blamed for the virus, but who is then transformed into physical attacks.
“At the start of the pandemic, these were Trump-inspired and hate-filled verbal attacks,” said Vicha’s son-in-law Eric Lawson. “Now it has become violent.”
Mr. Lee, the community activist, said the constant barrage of videos and reports showing attacks on Asians was particularly draining.
“Every time we see a story that’s the worst we’ve seen, another one comes up,” he said. “There’s this escalation of horrors that never seems to stop.”
Holly Secon contributed reporting from San Francisco.