‘I’m not a virus’: Silicon Valley lawmaker unveils plan to combat anti-Asian hate
Otto Lee is at work in his Milpitas-based campaign office in this file photo.

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee introduced a slew of proposals Tuesday to research and combat hate crimes against the county’s Asian and Asian-American population.

    Lee’s proposals, adopted unanimously by supervisors, will create a community outreach and education campaign against race-based violence against Asians, and begins work on federal and legislative advocacy to encourage proposals that focus on racial justice and hate crime prevention.

    It’s not immediately clear how much the proposals will cost or how they’ll be funded.

    Lee is also calling on the Sheriff’s Office to beef up “law enforcement presence and visibility” to deter violence against Asian-owned and/or operated businesses.

    Santa Clara County has an estimated 800,000 residents of Asian descent, Lee said. Between March and December last year, more than 700 anti-Asian incidents were reported in the Bay Area, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a San Francisco State University-based project. San Jose had the second most incidents of hate in the Bay Area, following San Francisco with 58 incidents since the pandemic began.

    As a Chinese American, Lee said, he is a member of that community.

    “Many of you know me as Otto Lee,” Lee said. “I do have a name, in Chinese, which is Lee Chau-Hiu.”

    Lee described how his family emigrated from Hong Kong and made a life in the United States.

    “I’m not an alien, or a foreigner, and I’m certainly not a virus,” Lee said. “Please don’t judge by staring at me and think you know me. I am a Chinese American and patriotism has run deep in my family.”

    Before being elected in November, Lee served as a councilmember and mayor of Sunnyvale, and practiced as an intellectual property rights attorney. Lee is a retired U.S. Navy commander, and earned the Bronze Star for his military service in Iraq. He is the board’s first Chinese-American supervisor.

    Lee’s proposal also calls for listening sessions within the county’s ethnic Asian communities to assess which hate crimes and incidents have risen in frequency since the beginning of the pandemic. Many hate crimes go unreported because of fear of retaliation, as well as language barriers. Listening sessions will include translation services and involve Asian-led community organizations to overcome these barriers.

    Residents told the county supervisors there is a rising fear in the Asian community,  particularly in the wake of a recent sexual assault of an Asian American woman at the Diridon transit station in San Jose as well as the mass shooting at three Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta last week.

    Michele Lew, CEO of Health Trust, detailed her own experiences with racism in Santa Clara County.

    “I’ve been heckled, I’ve been asked where am I really from, and I’ve been told to go back to China,” Lew said. “Incidents like this stick with you all of your life. I’ve never been as fearful of being Asian in Santa Clara County as I am today.”

    Tuesday’s proposals also included approval of “bystander intervention trainings” to inform the general public on what constitutes a hate crime, how to report it and how to intervene while maintaining one’s own personal safety, according to county documents.

    “What I so appreciated is that the motion is focused on the tangible work that we can and should do to address these issues,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian. “I am among those that think that every little bit helps, and while it is important we raise our voices at a rally, online or by action of our board—I think we all know we need to go beyond that expression of concern and do the tangible work that is embodied in this motion.”

    County officials will return to supervisors in May with a detail program for final approval.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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