U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., And Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Speak during a “Stop Asian Hate” rally outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Ben Grau)
AURORA | Efforts to combat hostility and bias against Asian residents in Aurora comforts Harry Budisidharta, but the need for this new concerted community and police plan to combat bigotry saddens him.
Aurora Police Department and District 18th District Attorney held a virtual meeting Monday night to discuss hate crimes against Asian Americans after several Asian-owned day spas were fired in Atlanta last week.
Budisidharta, eThe Asian Pacific Development Center’s xecutive director hosted the meeting, along with members of the law enforcement community.
About 200 people joined online.
After the massacre in the Atlanta area on Monday The meeting followed another mass shooting. Ten people, including a police officer, were shot dead Monday at a King Soopers in Boulder.
The Atlanta shootings brought the longstanding problem of hatred and mistreatment of Asian Americans to recent headlines.
“Hate crimes are not a new issue for the Asian community,” he said.
Hate crime is a systemic problem fueled by racist laws and policies, he said. When politicians repeat phrases like “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” in relation to COVID-19, it encourages people to mistreat Asian Americans.
Hate crimes and dehumanizing language against Asians are intended to “create the impression that we are not part of the fabric of American society and that we do not deserve equal protection under the law,” said Budisidharta.
A rally against anti-Asian hate crimes is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol. He asked people to attend to show their support.
“Our community is strong, our community is resilient and we will get through this with the support of our allies,” he said.
Budisidharta began the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the boulder shooting. Aurora Police Department chief Vanessa Wilson later fell silent for the eight victims of the Atlanta shooting.
Wilson said the department is serious about bias-related incidents and asked people to report hate crimes to ADP by calling 303-627-3100. If an incident is in progress, call 911. Interpreters are available for free, she said.
Wilson said the APD has been stepping up patrols around Asian businesses and places of worship in Aurora to build connections with the community and deter potential perpetrators.
APD is currently undergoing implicit bias training, said Claudine McDonald, who works for the community relations department. McDonald, who said she was part of the Pacific Islander community, said she understands who some people in the community may not feel like they can go to law enforcement and that the department is committed to building people’s trust to win.
John Kellner, the 18th District Attorney, also urged people to report hate crimes to law enforcement.
“We cannot prosecute what is not reported and we certainly cannot prosecute what is not investigated,” he said.
The 18th judicial district is home to Colorado’s largest Asian-American community, and Kellner said he takes his responsibility for prosecuting anti-Asian hate crimes seriously.
On average, the district prosecutes around 30 hate crimes annually, he said. In 2019 that number dropped to 22, but rose to 33 in 2021. He said he did not want to repeat this repeat in 2021.
A biased crime team has been put together in the office, and Kellner said he was inundated with members of the district interested in being a part of it.
Kellner said the office would be proactive against hatred, and he and Budisidharta discussed hosting such a meeting about a month ago prior to filming in Atlanta.
“This terrible event shows why it is so important to stand up for our neighbors, to be there for one another and to say that we will not tolerate this hatred here,” he said.
Brain Sugioka, assistant prosecutor, discussed the legal definition of a bias incident. Sugioka said he was in Colorado “because of racism”. His parents fled California to Colorado under Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for Japanese internment during World War II.
Because of this, Sugioka said he had every reason to distrust the government. However, he said he decided to work in law enforcement because he saw “how much good we can do” with leaders who are committed to justice.
When asked by the audience whether the legislation on hate crimes could be improved, Kellner replied that the state parliament could make it clear that people often have more than one motive for their actions. Sometimes the office uses common sense that something was hate motivated but doesn’t pursue it that way because it doesn’t believe it could unequivocally prove to a jury that it was a hate crime, he said.
It happened last week when people were debating whether the Atlanta shooting suspect was being driven by anti-Asian bias, misogyny (seven of the victims were women), or a combination of both. One motive has not yet been released by law enforcement agencies.
People are complex, ”said Kellner. “You do things for more than one reason.”