It was March 17, the day after the Atlanta spa shootings, and a nationwide wave of violence in opposition to Asian Individuals gave the impression to be carrying over onto the streets of San Francisco.
Steven Jenkins, a 39-year-old homeless man with an extended historical past of extreme psychological sickness, was arrested on fees of assaulting two Asian residents, together with a 75-year-old lady who, in accordance with the headlines flashed around the globe, had bravely fought her attacker.
The duty of defending Jenkins fell to a Taiwanese-born lawyer within the San Francisco Public Defender’s Workplace, Eric McBurney. Inside 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 in opposition to Asians.
Once I met McBurney for a espresso this week, he informed me he understood what he was up in opposition to on this case when his family members in Taiwan examine it within the Chinese language press and criticized him for taking it on.
“How is that this man going to get a good trial?” McBurney requested about his consumer.
Within the months because the assault, McBurney has waged a battle in opposition to public opinion and what he described as a false narrative. He argues that the assault involving his consumer hinges not on racial hatred however on psychological sickness and the customarily tough and chaotic avenue circumstances of the homeless in San Francisco.
“This case has nothing to do with anti-Asian hate,” McBurney stated. “Mr. Jenkins within the final 5 years has had 5 psychological sickness emergencies annually, on common.”
“His thoughts is damaged.”
The assaults Jenkins is accused of committing got here amid a collection of high-profile assaults in opposition to Asian folks. Six of the eight folks killed within 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 Space Asian neighborhood.
The coronavirus and the insults of former President Donald J. Trump in regards to the “Kung flu” unleashed flat-out hatred in opposition to Asian Individuals, 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 majority of the cash will likely 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, bodily and emotionally,” her household wrote. “She additionally said that she is afraid to step out of her house to any extent further.”
Specialists have stated that whereas the ache and concern of being focused for being Asian are professional and should be addressed, it’s typically unattainable to parse the particular motivations of assailants.
In an uncommon try and dispel the notion that his consumer 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 among the many 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 plenty of unknown assailants, assaults that McBurney describes as unprovoked.
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 Avenue. Jenkins staggers, turns round and swings. He strikes Xie, who’s on a avenue nook, within the face.
Tackled by a safety guard, Jenkins is on the bottom when Xie hits Jenkins’s ft with a wood board, the video exhibits. Not captured within 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 primary photos that streamed around the globe confirmed Jenkins on a stretcher with a bloodied face and Xie close by holding a wood board. The story of the aged Asian lady who fought again was born.
McBurney, who was adopted by a white household when he was in his teenagers, says he understands racism in opposition to Asians. He stated he felt it firsthand throughout his childhood in small cities throughout the South.
“I’ve grown up in cities the place I’m all the Asian inhabitants,” he stated. “You’re at all times feeling you don’t belong.”
McBurney, 48, spent 20 years busing and ready tables, doing backyard work and different odd jobs earlier than growing a ardour for literature and the regulation. He has a grasp’s diploma in English literature from the College of Utah and went to the College of Iowa School of Regulation on a full scholarship.
I requested him how he was dealing with the hate mail from different Asian Individuals and disapproval even from inside his prolonged household in Taiwan.
“I adore it,” McBurney rapidly shot again. “It’s additional motivation.”
“It’s when the entire world is in opposition to your consumer, that’s when a public defender says, ‘Yeah, that is my job.’”
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported everywhere in the state, together with the Bay Space, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — however she at all times desires to see extra. Comply with alongside right here or on Twitter.