Compassion in Oakland: Hundreds Volunteer to Escort Elderly Asian Americans After Slew of Violent Attacks

Community members in Oakland, California are stepping up to keep Asian American people safe amid a recent flurry of assaults against Asian American elders, spurred on by racist disinformation and xenophobic scapegoating from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, a video of elderly Thai American man Vicha Ratanapakdee being brutally attacked by an unprovoked assailant in San Francisco went viral. Ratanapakdee later died from the injuries. His attack was just one of many in the state and across the country, including a Vietnamese grandmother who was assaulted and mugged in San Jose, California; a Filipino American man, Noel Quintana, who was slashed across the face in a New York City subway station; and an elderly Filipino woman who was attacked on a trolley in San Diego.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group speaking out against violence of Asian American and Pacific Islander people, there were more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian racist acts across the country between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020. More than 7% involved victims over the age of 60.

In the wake of recent news, 26-year-old Bay Area resident Jacob Azevedo posted on social media, offering to walk with anyone in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood to help keep them safe. Moved by his idea, CNN reported that others had reached out and offered to join him. Within days, nearly 300 volunteers stepped up, and the collective formed a project called Compassion in Oakland.

The group’s website provides a form that allows users to request a chaperone to walk with them, but if someone needs a chaperone within 15 minutes, they can call or text a number to request more immediate support.

“We strive to provide the Oakland Chinatown Community with a resource for promoting safety and community,” Compassion in Oakland’s mission statement says. “We aim to embrace the often forgotten, underserved and vulnerable. We promote compassion not indifference, unity as opposed to divisiveness. Fostering a more caring and safer Oakland for all.”

Azevedo told CNN that he hopes the group will soon be able to collaborate with law enforcement to help keep the community safe.

Although ignited by fear-mongering over the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and violence against Asian Americans is nothing new. However, it does receive a stark lack of mainstream media coverage when it happens. Earlier this month, civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen took to Twitter to demand mainstream news outlets cover these attacks.

On Feb. 13 (one day after Lunar New Year 2021), Compassion in Oakland had a soft launch, with the organization posting a photo on Instagram of ten volunteers standing outside of the Oakland Public Library’s Asian Branch in Pacific Renaissance Plaza.

“First day with feet on the streets!” the caption read. “Thanks to our first group of volunteers! It felt good to be in the community and working together. Can’t wait to do it again!”

Those in the area who are interested in volunteering can apply here. In addition to being a chaperone, volunteers can apply to help with community outreach, administrative support and supply management and distribution.