Watch CBS News

San Francisco AAPI leaders demand justice in 2023 death of Asian woman

San Francisco AAPI activists demand answers about police investigation into Yanfang Wu's death
San Francisco AAPI activists demand answers about police investigation into Yanfang Wu's death 04:25

One of the most disturbing trends during the pandemic was the rise in violent hate crimes directed at Asians and Pacific Islanders, and one incident is drawing a lot of scrutiny.

AAPI leaders in San Francisco said it seems obvious they're being targeted, but there is one case in particular that has some in the community wondering just how seriously the justice system is taking it.

"I was born and raised here. My family still has shops on Grant Street and Broadway Street," said SF native Hudson Liao, as he strolled through Portsmouth Square, a popular gathering place for Asian elders. 

The stocky, amateur MMA fighter and founder of a group called "Asians Are Strong" teaches self-defense lessons to seniors. But he said he still feels a little guilty that he hasn't done enough to help them feel safe in San Francisco's Chinatown.

"Oh, that's Aunt Lily. Say hi to Aunt Lily," said Liao as he hurried across a crosswalk.

In Chinatown, seniors are often referred to as "Aunt" or "Uncle" as an acknowledgment of their position in the community.

"That's why we don't call people by their first name, usually," he said. "Because it is that built-in natural respect. And that's why protecting elders, protecting seniors, is so important to us."

And that's also why images from across the country of Asian seniors being attacked have so enraged the AAPI community. Last summer, 63-year-old Yanfang Wu died after being knocked to the ground near a bus stop in San Francisco's Bayview District.

A month later, SFPD announced that after reviewing surveillance video the incident was ruled to be an accident and the case was closed. 

But earlier this month, the same person who shoved Ms. Wu, a 43-year-old woman named Thea Hopkins, was arrested for allegedly attacking a 71-year-old Asian woman on Gilman Street, just five blocks away.

Now, Liao and other Asian leaders are demanding that the Wu case be reopened and pursued as a hate crime.

"How many Asian elders do you have to attack for there to be a hate crime? Do they have to have a tattoo of 'I hate Asians' before they kill someone, and that's a hate crime?" asked Liao. "And the more you stay ambiguous, the more you don't address this, the less confidence the community has."

Justin Zhu, co-founder of an organization called Stand With Asian Americans, agreed.

"We want to understand. What was the extent of the investigation done by our city authorities and was justice served," Zhu said. "We feel, as a community, that it was not."

"We want to know why you did the bare minimum to investigate this heinous crime," said Liao at a community event on March 16.

With Police Chief William Scott and Mayor London Breed in the audience, Liao and other activists demanded that city officials release the video to the public.

"So will it be you Chief Scott or maybe District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. Or maybe you, Mayor London Breed," said Liao. "Honestly, I really don't give a **** who it is, as long as one of you becomes the leader you claim to be."

The Asian community is usually supportive of law enforcement, so they are shocked to feel that violent crime targeting their seniors is not being taken seriously.

"That's why we want to see the tape,' said Liao. "If you're going to definitely say this was an accident, then the public has the right and need to know what you consider as an accident."

And he said he's tired of hearing that the attacks are not racially motivated.

"You have the information to see trends and stop it," Liao said.  "If you see certain groups of people getting victimized over and over maybe you should do something about it."

The police did reopen the Wu case, citing "new evidence." And the day after the public event, both the Mayor and Police Chief announced that the video would be released to the public, but only after the investigation is complete — in a case that was officially closed nine months ago.

Asian community leaders said the clock is ticking, and they've given officials 30 days to release the video. Mayor Breed is facing re-election in November and Asian and Pacific Islanders make up about a third of San Francisco's population.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.