(film reel clattering) - [Sandy] Welcome to today's Ethnic Media Services Zoom news conference.
[background music] I'm Sandy Close, executive director of Ethnic Media Services and today's moderator.
Our briefing focuses on making public transit safe for the public.
Over the last months, in fact, over the last two years, public fears about using public transit have risen dramatically, as stories about random, and sometimes fatal attacks on passengers, have made front-page news.
The streets around public transportation are no safer.
Women, seniors, people of color, members of the disabled and LGBTQ communities are disproportionately the targets of such attacks, and often find no recourse when they report such incidents to local law enforcement.
Speakers today will discuss new legislation addressing the safety of public transportation and the surrounding streets, policies to ensure safety on public transport, and ground level initiatives already in place.
I'm honored to introduce Senator David Min, Janice Li, board president of Bay Area Rapid Transit, and a veteran community organizer in the AAPI community.
And, a special welcome to you, Esther, for being a storyteller, which is so valuable for all of us to put a human face on these issues that we discuss.
Now, let's begin.
And, I'm honored to introduce Senator David Min.
- Okay, thank you.
I just was made co-host.
Firstly, thank you, Sandy, for that kind introduction and thank you to Ethic Media Services.
And, I also want to just acknowledge the importance of ethnic media, and I was proud to be a part of the API Legislative Caucus push last year, two years ago.
So, my name is Dave Min.
I was elected in 2020 to represent the 37th Senate District which includes my home city of Irvine and a good chunk of Orange County.
We have about 20% of our population made up of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.
I'm proud to be vice chair of the API Legislative Caucus.
And, this bill was a no-brainer for me.
I want to acknowledge also that Stop AAPI Hate was instrumental in developing this legislation.
It is an important bill as we talk about public spaces and safety, as we talk about keeping people- Asian Americans-- at a time when so many of our seniors and women and others feel vulnerable in public spaces, that we take steps to make sure that our public spaces, particularly those that are under the jurisdiction of the government, like public transit, that they are safe for riders, safe for our vulnerable populations.
And so, what SB 434 would do, is to require that California's top 10- the 10 largest public transit systems- would collect data from their passengers on the problem of harassment and uncomfortable behavior.
And so, this is a companion bill to a bill that we passed last year, that was originally meant to require the transit agencies to collect data and to then develop solutions, and implement solutions based on that data to try to make our public transit systems safer.
Because of the cost of that bill last year, we had to narrow it.
And so, what we ended up doing was authorizing the Mineta Transportation Institute, which is a well-respected nonpartisan think tank, to develop a survey for use by the transit agencies.
And, that is what this bill this year is trying to do next, is to authorize and acquire that these transit agencies actually take this survey that's being developed right now by the Mineta Institute, and to start surveying their riders.
Because, the problem right now is that we don't know enough about harassment and assaults on public transit.
We know anecdotally it's a problem.
But there's a saying, and I'm actually a former academic.
I was a law professor before becoming a state senator, and there's a saying in academia that, "the plural of anecdote is not data."
And so, we need hard data at this point if we want to develop solutions.
And so, what this would do is to give a voice to the millions of transit riders throughout the state of California, particularly those who feel like they can't freely and safely, and comfortably, use public transit and start to put some numbers out there.
"Where does this happen?
"What types of populations are targeted?
What are the types of instances that we're seeing?"
And, once we have that data, then we can start to use that data to develop solutions.
"Are there certain areas that need maybe more security?
"That maybe need better lighting?
"Do we need training for some of our employees "on public transit?
Do we need more personnel?"
And, we know that it's a serious problem, but we just don't know at this point how serious it is on public transit.
We know that of the roughly 11,500 hate incidents reported in 2021 and 2022 of anti-Asian hate, that two-thirds of them involved harassment such as verbal or written hate speech or inappropriate gestures.
We also know that other vulnerable communities, women and girls, people of color, disabled members, LGBTQ communities, also feel unsafe in public spaces and in public transit.
But, again, right now we just have anecdotal data.
We don't have real data, and that's what we need to do right now.
This bill will be an important step towards making public transit safer.
And, we think it's something that will end up more than paying for itself, because we think at the end of the day-- right now, one of the biggest reasons that public transit is seeing a drop in their ridership, we know this from some of the surveys that have been done, is because people feel unsafe on public transit.
And, I know there's some powerful brave people that are going to share their stories of harassment on public transit, but we need to make it safer.
It is something that we owe a duty to the public to do, but it's also something that I believe will increase ridership in public transit.
And, that's something that I very strongly believe in.
So, I will ask you all-- I'll answer some questions right now, but what I would ask of you is as this bill moves forward that we push hard as a community to try to make sure that my colleagues in the state senate and state assembly, and then the governor, do not-- that they recognize the importance of this bill and don't end up narrowing it or canceling it, or killing the bill because of the cost of it.
It's a very small cost at this point.
We're taking all steps to reduce the cost but it's such an important priority and it's really an investment because if we can make public transit safer, we know this will have a tremendous return on investment.
So with that, I'd love to take your questions, and thank you again to Ethnic Media Services for hosting this today.
- [Sandy] Thank you.
My colleague, Sunita, I know has prepared a number of questions.
I'd like to start with you, Sunita.
- [Sunita] Senator Min, I wanted to ask you first of all, what kind of data collection exists now, and how have you been able to utilize it thus far to create policy?
- I don't think we have good data collection.
So we have, as we know, groups like Stop AAPI Hate has started taking reports of harassment.
That's been a central resource as far as understanding the extent to which anti-Asian hate is occurring.
But, we don't really have transit specific data.
The transit agencies can do their own surveys and some of them, I think LA Metro and BART have done some surveys.
I don't believe they've done surveys specifically around harassment with targeted data around who, you know, are the types of populations, the demographics of the populations that are experiencing it.
So, we're really trying to create the program here that collects that data in our public transit spaces.
So again, it's ad hoc right now.
It's determined on a transit agency by transit agency basis.
There is no systemic statewide effort to try to gather this.
And so, we think it's important that we start to systematize the collection of that data, because we don't really know what the solutions are.
I think we have some thoughts on what the solutions might be, but we really won't know that until we have a better understanding of: "where does this take place?
"Who's being affected?
What are the types of incidents that are occurring?"
- [Sandy] Question: Where is California as a path breaker on this vis-à-vis other states?
Are other states working on this issue?
And, are sort of out in the "front of the line", so to speak?
- So, my belief is that this is the first program in the state-- like, in the country, of this nature to try to understand the problem of harassment.
I hope that others will follow, including New York.
And, I know we have Esther with us from New York, originally from Irvine I should say, which I represent.
But, you know, right now, what we're seeing is transit agencies are largely on their own.
So, I'm sure that the New York City subway system has some programs they're considering.
Maybe they're collecting some data, but there's really no systematic efforts to try to understand this and address the problem.
I also want to say that LA Metro and BART, and I want to give a shout-out to Janice Li, BART director who will be speaking in a moment, they have been pioneers in this space as far as transit agencies go.
LA Metro has conducted some comprehensive safety research around the problem of harassment.
BART has deployed some innovative pilot programs to try to, for example, deploy non-police personnel to walk the trains and just provide a presence during peak hours so that people feel safe; they feel comfortable because there's an official representative there.
And, these are the types of things we look to as models.
But, again, there's no systematic effort of this kind.
- [Sandy] And, thank you so much.
We'll move on now to Janice Li.
- [David] Thanks.
- [Sandy] Sorry?
To Janice Li, the board president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART.
Janice, thank you for joining us.
Thank you so much, Sandy.
And, it is an honor to follow Senator Dave Min who has been such a leader in Sacramento on this topic.
As introduced, I am elected to the BART board.
I represent the western side of San Francisco as one of nine board directors.
So, because of the pandemic, and many other reasons, we have significantly fewer trips per day, because of the pandemic, but also because of the much lower return to office rate here in San Francisco versus other major cities in the U.S. Pre-pandemic, BART would provide something like 430,000 trips on an average weekday, which amounted to over 118 million rides per year.
We are currently at about 40% of our pre-pandemic ridership which matches the downtown San Francisco office occupancy rates.
Our average rider has also changed.
So now, we have two-thirds of our ridership identifying as non-white.
A third are in households with income under $50,000 and therefore low-income.
And, 44% do not own a car, and are therefore relying on BART as their method of transportation.
So these are very, very essential trips.
So, I was elected to BART in 2018, and in these past four years we've funded and created several new programs that are almost entirely focused on addressing safety, and some sort of indirect but parallel concerns like homelessness, cleanliness, other such issues.
And, our main focus at BART, and my main focus, has really been to increase presence, and more uniformed staff in all areas of our system: in our plazas to our concourse level, inside the fair gates, at our platforms, and in our trains; riding our trains themselves.
These safety presence, the staff, they are trained.
They're equipped with Narcan.
They're able to communicate directly with our BART police officers for serious emergency situations, and they're very clearly representing themselves as BART.
This presence includes BART elevator attendants.
So, at all hours of operations in our downtown stations, there is someone sitting in the elevator to ensure that it is a safe space for seniors, people with disabilities, parents with strollers, and others to use.
We also just reopened several of our underground bathrooms and at all hours of operations those bathrooms are attended.
In one of our busiest stations having an attended bathroom, we have now received zero calls for service.
Meaning, you know, people thought that they were going to be drug dens, or people would be in them for forever.
That's not been the case.
They've been places for people to use a bathroom.
We also have piloted and established officially a BART ambassador program.
These are non-sworn officers that are just riding the trains and at our platforms making sure that folks feel safe, can ask any questions.
And, certainly when the pandemic hit and we had a mask mandate, they were passing out masks, and making sure people were wearing them correctly.
And, we also just a couple years ago, just passed and funded a Crisis Intervention Team which allows staff who have social work backgrounds to specifically take the time and focus on engaging folks who are experiencing behavioral health crises, who might be under the influence of any substances, and who might be unhoused.
These folks are able to connect folks to actual resources and, you know, do something what we call "warm handoffs."
Let me just touch very briefly about the financial situation.
BART and public transit across the country is facing an existential crisis.
BART in particular has historically been very fare dependent, meaning that pre-pandemic, 70% of our operating budget, about a billion dollars a year, was paid for by our fares.
So when our ridership dipped to 4% when shelter-in-place began in March 2020, and we are currently at just 40% ridership, we will not continue to exist if we cannot find new revenue streams.
- [Sandy] Great.
Thank you so much, Ms. Li, for your presentation.
We go now to Esther Lee, and Esther, you're going start with a video, under a minute, of what actually happened to you in the New York subway.
Thank you so much for having me here today.
Just a bit of a trigger warning: this might be upsetting to some of you.
So, here we go.
- Are you watching us?
- You all of these people?
You know these people, you?
- I'm bringing them all in to protect me.
- Oh, (beep) you!
I said no!
(he spits) I said no!
(he spits) - Yo, yo, yo?!
- That's not okay.
That is not okay.
- Hi, everybody.
My name is Esther Lee and I'm 46 years old.
I have been an educator for over 20 years and a longtime resident of New York City.
I am the proud daughter of Korean immigrants who moved to Brazil in the '70s, and again to the United States; matter of fact, in Senator Min's area of Irvine in the early '90s.
As a Korean American woman, I have been dismayed by the increase in hate crimes against the AAPI community nationwide.
I never thought I would be targeted while riding public transportation in the city I call home.
The video you have just watched took place on October 5th, 2021.
I was rushing home from work to attend a Zoom meeting.
Immediately after taking a seat, the man who you saw in the video, unmasked and wearing a hot pink hoodie, raised his fisted hand to my face asking me for a fist bump.
Even after ignoring him, the man persisted.
I turned to him and politely said, "Sir, please don't touch me or engage with me.
I am not interested."
It was clearly not the answer this man wanted, because he grew irate.
I felt unsafe and moved away from him.
As I got up and stood against the wall inside this moving train, I began to film the incident on my phone.
It was about 56, 57 seconds long where I was accosted by this man and I had nowhere to go.
As we approached 42nd Street, he yells, "Who would want to touch you, you (beep) carrier?"
And, proceeded to spit on me twice, ensuring his vitriol and hatred landed on my person.
As soon as the train stopped on 42nd Street, I quickly moved away from him.
None of the bystanders, as you saw, helped me as I moved to another car.
As the train began to move again, I distinctly remembered feeling violated and angry.
I was shocked and knew this had to be reported.
I exited the train on 59th Street remembering that there is a police precinct located inside that station.
As I sat down to write my personal statement the lieutenant-on-duty, Dewan Persaud, asked me if the man hurled an Asian slur.
The man had in fact called me a "carrier", a clear reference to the COVID pandemic, and the recent rise of AAPI hate.
Two weeks after the incident, I discovered the precinct labeled my case "harassment" rather than "hate crime."
As I called and had the report read to me over the phone, I also discovered that the precinct failed to include that I was called a "carrier", even though I included it in my initial statement and had video footage proving as much.
Going public with my story was not about finding the perpetrator, Michael Aldridge.
I wanted to go public with my story to bring attention to the improper mishandling of cases within the AAPI community.
In fact, it became clear to me that the NYPD, an agency like any other law enforcement agency in our country, ordered to protect and serve our communities, failed to at least properly investigate my case.
If cases like mine were not being labeled as a hate crime, that meant that many more similar incidents were being mislabeled and dismissed.
Clearly, the stats on Asian hate crimes we are aware of are actually inaccurate.
The reality is that incidents like mine take place more often in public transportation and on the street than incidents of great tragedy such as Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee.
With the immediate dismissal of a situation that deserved proper investigation, you are led to believe that unless you come to great physical harm, the system that law enforcement is built upon is unable to serve you.
This perpetuates the unfortunate reality of why women like me who are harassed and attacked do not report their cases.
As I begin to go public with my story, my 81 year old mother expressed her concern for my safety, and her concern helped focus my activism.
How often did my parents- immigrants- who struggled to earn a living in this country where their otherness was mocked, dismissed and belittled, continuously accepted this abuse knowing that they could not fight back?
My parents represent the larger AAPI community, one that is targeted and is constantly reminded that they do not belong here.
Our voices are not important enough to demand change, and our identities are better served if we keep our heads down and stay silent within the model minority paradigm.
Every attack on the Asian elderly or an Asian woman is felt by the AAPI community.
I hope that by bringing attention to way law enforcement labels and conducts possible hate crime investigations, we can bring real changes to the system, ensuring not only the safety of every member of the AAPI community, but of others, as well.
That is why the introduction of the SB 434 bill by Senator Dave Min is a much needed part of the solution, along with the SB 1161 bill, which was passed in September 2022.
We cannot work together on solutions to a problem unless we gather accurate information, identify where issues may be, address them and validate the voices of those impacted.
This is about safety for all.
I'm happy to take any questions you may have.
- [Sandy] Thank you, Esther.
We have a question from Sunita.
- [Sunita] Esther, watching your video was just horrifying and I'm sorry you went through that.
I'm wondering if when you went to police, spitting on a person is actually considered a misdemeanor.
Did police not even charge a misdemeanor in this case?
- Initially, no.
What I found out is that if a case gets labeled a harassment, the likelihood of law enforcement actually taking it to the next step where a detective calls you to get it investigated is actually very rare, or if not minimal.
It was only after the civilian review panel labeled my case a harassment and after it went, they found the perpetrator, Michael Aldridge.
I believe he was charged with a misdemeanor and...like, something about-?
Like, biological...you know, safety.
Because he wasn't wearing a mask.
I mean, that was essentially what it was all about.
I cannot change the way the laws are right now, and I think there's a great deal of discussion about how the hate crime law is currently stated in New York State and that is why it is so hard to prosecute: because of one tiny word.
And so, it's-- that's, you know, I think on the macro level.
On the micro level, you're dealing with law enforcement that just is not willing to be educated in these incidents.
And when pushed and asked, they blame the administration.
They say it's a lack of resources.
And, frankly, I used to be a New York City public school teacher.
I know how tough resources are.
But, when it is your taxpayers job to serve and protect, that is not quite the answer you want to hear when you've been victimed; when you were a victim, rather.
- [Sandy] Thank you.
[audio echo] Esther, I am going to move on, and save time at the end for any last questions.
Thank you very much for your first-person sharing.
Have the presence of cameras helped in identifying patterns?
And, are cameras actually present?
- So, you know, I don't think cameras necessarily will help discover patterns and identify them.
I think that it's good to have visuals for law enforcement in case they have to go after people.
But, I'm not necessarily certain if that's going to aid in the solution in terms of data collecting and/or, you know, pattern seeking.
And, Janice, do you wanna address the issue of cameras?
So, this is several years ago.
There was an incident that happened, and turns out there were a number of cameras on board BART trains that were non-functional.
We have now remedied that problem, and with our new train cars, every single camera in all of our stations, on our train cars, are functioning.
I've seen our dispatch.
I've seen those cameras.
However, the thing with cameras is that they are a after-the-fact, reactive tool.
That's not going to help that situation in the moment.
And, with a number of cameras, I mean, we have, like, what?
Some 1,200 train cars?
We don't realistically have someone monitoring every single train car at all hours.
So really, they are helpful for after-the-fact; for being able to identify, you know, specific perpetrators or understand specific situations that happened, but not as a... something to reveal patterns and attacks or harassment.
♪ [background music] - Thank you so much to all our speakers for helping us take on this very pressing concern.
All of us share it.
All of us who use public transit think twice now.
And, the issue is one that you've helped us explore through personal testimony and lived experience, as well as expertise.
We know you've identified [background music] important steps forward.
And so, we end this briefing with a sense that there are things that are working.
There are initiatives people have undertaken on their own, such as Mr. Kerre.
And, there are elected officials really breaking ground on this issue, especially around the issue of data.
So, thank you all for being on the call and I think this conference is now adjourned.