It was March 17, the day after the Atlanta spa shootings, and a nationwide wave of violence towards Asian Americans appeared to be carrying over onto the streets of San Francisco.
Steven Jenkins, a 39-year-old homeless man with a protracted historical past of extreme psychological sickness, was arrested on fees of assaulting two Asian residents, together with a 75-year-old girl who, in response to the headlines flashed round the world, had bravely fought her attacker.
The job of defending Jenkins fell to a Taiwanese-born lawyer in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Eric McBurney. Within days, McBurney’s electronic mail inbox crammed with hateful messages questioning why he, as an Asian American, was defending somebody accused of such an odious assault towards Asians.
When I met McBurney for a espresso this week, he advised me he understood what he was up towards in this case when his circle of relatives members in Taiwan examine it in the Chinese press and criticized him for taking it on.
“How is this guy going to get a fair trial?” McBurney requested about his shopper.
In the months since the assault, McBurney has waged a battle towards public opinion and what he described as a false narrative. He argues that the assault involving his shopper hinges not on racial hatred however on psychological sickness and the usually tough and chaotic road circumstances of the homeless in San Francisco.
ImageA giant group gathered in San Francisco protesting assaults on members of the Asian neighborhood.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
“This case has nothing to do with anti-Asian hate,” McBurney mentioned. “Mr. Jenkins in the last five years has had five mental illness emergencies each year, on average.”
“His mind is broken.”
The assaults Jenkins is accused of committing got here amid a sequence of high-profile assaults towards Asian folks. Six of the eight folks killed in the Atlanta shootings had been of Asian descent. Earlier that week, a person in San Francisco was arrested on fees of attacking Danny Yu Chang, a 59-year-old journey agent from the Philippines who was returning to his workplace after lunch. Two months earlier, a 19-year-old man was charged with fatally shoving a Thai man, an assault caught on video that unfold concern throughout the Bay Area Asian neighborhood.
The coronavirus and the insults of former President Donald J. Trump about the “Kung flu” unleashed flat-out hatred towards Asian Americans, hundreds of examples of which have been documented throughout the nation by activist teams.
The household of Xiao Zhen Xie, the girl who was assaulted by Jenkins, raised greater than $1 million on a GoFundMe web page. The bulk of the cash can be donated to a nonprofit affiliation that the household helped set as much as help victims of hate crimes.
“She has been severely affected mentally, physically and emotionally,” her household wrote. “She also stated that she is afraid to step out of her home from now on.”
Experts have mentioned that whereas the ache and concern of being focused for being Asian are official and have to be addressed, it’s usually not possible to parse the particular motivations of assailants.
In an uncommon try to dispel the notion that his shopper acted out of hate, McBurney in April launched a seven-minute video exhibiting the assault on Xie and the moments that preceded it.
On the day of the assaults, Jenkins, who has been homeless for the previous decade, was mingling amongst the tents and belongings of the unhoused at U.N. Plaza. In footage taken from safety cameras, Jenkins is seen being punched and kicked dozens of occasions by a quantity of unknown assailants, assaults that McBurney describes as unprovoked.
ImageSurveillance video launched by Eric McBurney.Credit…San Francisco Public Defender’s Office
One attacker in a bright-yellow vest seems to land two proper hooks to Jenkins’s face after which follows him throughout a sidewalk on Market Street. Jenkins staggers, turns round and swings. He strikes Xie, who’s on a road nook, in the face.
Tackled by a safety guard, Jenkins is on the floor when Xie hits Jenkins’s toes with a wood board, the video reveals. Not captured in the footage was one other assault that Jenkins is accused of committing on Ngoc Pham, an 83-year-old Vietnamese man.
On the day of the assault, the first pictures that streamed round the world confirmed Jenkins on a stretcher with a bloodied face and Xie close by holding a wood board. The story of the aged Asian girl who fought again was born.
McBurney, who was adopted by a white household when he was in his teenagers, says he understands racism towards Asians. He mentioned he felt it firsthand throughout his childhood in small cities throughout the South.
“I’ve grown up in cities where I am the entire Asian population,” he mentioned. “You’re always feeling you don’t belong.”
McBurney, 48, spent twenty years busing and ready tables, doing backyard work and different odd jobs earlier than growing a ardour for literature and the legislation. He has a grasp’s diploma in English literature from the University of Utah and went to the University of Iowa College of Law on a full scholarship.
I requested him how he was dealing with the hate mail from different Asian Americans and disapproval even from inside his prolonged household in Taiwan.
“I love it,” McBurney rapidly shot again. “It’s extra motivation.”
“It’s when the whole world is against your client, that’s when a public defender says, ‘Yeah, this is my job.’”
An preliminary wave of assaults round Lunar New Year reinvigorated simmering outrage and concern amongst Asian Americans.
After the Georgia assaults, Asian Americans have demanded critical motion towards racist assaults.
Here’s why hate crime fees in assaults towards Asian Americans are uncommon.
Here’s what else to know at present
ImagePatrons in masks at the Original Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times
Compiled by Jill Cowan
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported throughout the state, together with the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — however she at all times needs to see extra. Follow alongside right here or on Twitter.