Oakland Police Captain Bobby Hookfin leaves Chung Chou City while visiting Chinatown businesses in Oakland, California. Tuesday, February 16, 2021. (Stephen Lam / The Chronicles of San Francisco via Getty Images)
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After nearly two dozen violent attacks on Asian Americans in the Bay Area in the past two months, elderly residents are desperate for a sense of security while they go about their daily lives. And they have now turned to WeChat to find volunteers willing to join them to buy groceries or wait with them at the bus stop.
Right before the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce formed a community WeChat group to share information. In the past few weeks, however, the group has grown to around 350 participants, mostly urban Asian Americans, small businesses, and even representatives of local politicians, according to members who spoke to VICE News.
The chat helps keep its members informed of the ongoing investigations into the violent attacks and connects those in need with services and volunteers who could help them. Your efforts will even be translated and posted to the community so non-English speakers can participate and stay updated.
“Our group chat is very active with people saying things, taking pictures, sharing information about what they see and the latest developments in the neighborhood,” said Jessica Chen, executive director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and a co-founder of WeChat -Group, said VICE News. “Our merchants and residents are more aware than ever of the problems in our neighborhood.”
The attacks appear to be targeting elderly patrons of Oakland’s busy Chinatown neighborhood. On January 31, a man was caught on camera pushing a 55-year-old woman, a 60-year-old man, and a 91-year-old for no apparent reason before escaping the scene. Later that week, a 70-year-old grandmother was pushed and robbed after visiting her local bank.
Celebrities Asian American celebrities like actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu have even offered rewards for information that led to an arrest.
Over the past month, Oakland has made a number of grassroots efforts to protect the streets from organizations like Asians With Attitude. the newly formed Compassion in Oakland, founded by Jacob Azevedo; and other. Much of this effort either started with WeChat or used it to connect with the people who need their services.
“After the attacks and robberies in Oakland, many people brought their ideas to WeChat,” said Linyi Yu, a full-time student at UC Berkeley and a member of the WeChat group. She also volunteers for more than five different Asian citizen groups in the Oakland area. “This was the first time people talked about setting up some kind of civilian patrol. And that wasn’t from the Chamber of Commerce; it was from concerned residents. “
Soon after, various ideas on how to help the community exploded. In order not to overwhelm the main group chat, many people have created their own spinoff sub-groups on the platform to gather volunteers and formulate their ideas and plans. From there, members can offer their services to the entire community through the chamber’s master group.
If an Oakland resident knows an elderly person who needs help with simple errands like grocery shopping or wants someone to take them to the local market, the resident can simply request services on the Chamber of Commerce WeChat and within the company Let themselves help from a volunteer in a few hours.
For people who want to help with patrols, coordinating shifts and providing real-time updates of what’s happening in Chinatown throughout the day is also done through the app.
“The Chamber’s main group chat is more like a place where people check each other in. The sub-group chats are for different purposes,” Yu said.
The residents aren’t the only ones helping with the effort. Yu said local reporters trusted within the community and representatives from community council member offices have also joined the Chamber of Commerce WeChat to discuss how they can keep the community informed and even assist if they can .
Alvina Wong, the organizational director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, told VICE News that her organization worked hard to translate this news, as well as flyers and other community announcements about free meals and fundraisers, so that everyone, including non-English speakers, could do it can both take part and use helpful services.
“There is a lot of beautiful organization going on in WeChat that would otherwise have left out a lot of our people,” said Wong. “There is a big technical gap. People don’t know how to use zoom. Some people don’t even know how to send text messages. But our people know how to use WeChat and how to send voice recordings there. I think it’s a pretty impressive tool that our communities have used and relied on to share information with one another. “
Many Chinese Americans already use WeChat to keep in touch with their families in Hong Kong and China. While newer apps like Zoom and Google Chat have become popular over the past year, China-based WeChat has been a de facto communication app for the US Asian community for years and has grown even further during the pandemic.
Last fall, when President Trump proposed banning WeChat and other popular Chinese apps like TikTok due to privacy concerns, it threatened to disrupt years of communication between Asian Americans here in the US and their overseas countries.
“We were really concerned when the federal government spoke about banning WeChat,” said Chen. “We should have found alternatives. I think we would have found one, but moments like this, trying to talk to as many people as possible, made the process so much easier with an app that is so standardized in the community. “
Attacks on the Asian-American community have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, a national coalition that documents discrimination and crimes against the Asian community, said it received 2,808 firsthand reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in 2020, according to a report released earlier this month. And 7.3 percent of these incidents involved people over the age of 60.
Some Asian Americans, including California Assistant Attorney General Eric Chang, have criticized law enforcement for failing to view many of these recent attacks in Oakland as hate crimes.
Still, President Joe Biden has made tackling the rise in crime a priority: as one of his first acts, he ordered the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services to work more closely to prevent and prosecute discriminatory attacks on the Asian community.