Jacob Azevedo’s stomach turned as he watched a disturbing video of an 84-year-old American Thai man being fatally pushed to the ground on a sidewalk in San Francisco.
It was the second video of an unprovoked attack on an elderly Asian American that Oakland resident Azevedo had seen on social media outside the Bay Area in less than an hour, he told CNN.
Since the world learned of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, harassment and violence targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has increased rapidly in the United States.
More than 2,808 anti-Asian hate stories from 47 states and the District of Columbia were reported between March 19 and December 31, 2020, with 7.3% of those incidents involving Asian Americans over 60 years, according to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition documenting anti-Asian hatred and discrimination amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent surge in attacks on older Asian Americans in the Bay Area has heightened concerns among activists and community leaders.
Exhausted from the violence, Azevedo offered on social media to walk with anyone in Oakland Chinatown to help them feel safe.
“I didn’t intend to be some sort of vigilante,” Azevedo, 26, told CNN. “I just wanted to give people some kind of comfort.”
His idea quickly resonated throughout the community and within days nearly 300 volunteers joined him to protect the community in a project now called Compassion in Oakland.
Azevedo, who is of Hispanic descent, believes now is the time for all minority groups to show solidarity with the Asian-American community. He said people of all racial backgrounds and ages have contacted him sharing the same desire to help support the community.
“It’s important because this community just needs healing,” Azevedo said. “There is a lot of racial tension because of the rhetoric of the previous president, but in general our communities are in need of healing. This is a problem that has been going on for some time.”
Stop APPI Hate co-founder Cynthia Choi told CNN that crime and violence are not new to the Asian community.
“It’s a problem and an issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention, especially in low-income communities,” Choi said. “And of course the pandemic, I think, has exacerbated conditions and exposed racial disparities. “
Choi said that in times of crisis, when vulnerable people are targeted, it is heartwarming to see community members come out and take action.
“In Oakland, they’re planning this action and it’s really less about controlling than supporting the community and showing off,” she said. “It’s showing our elders who are scared, scared of leaving their homes that we are here, we want to support you, we have you right now.”
Azevedo hopes the organization can work with law enforcement in the future to protect the community.
“We must all unite if we hope to make this community a safer community for years to come,” Azevedo said.
The group has planned a smooth launch of the project on Saturday with a few groups of volunteers in the streets. They hope to continue to raise awareness in the community about this problem.