It was March 17, the day after the Atlanta spa shootings, and a national wave of violence against Asian Americans gave the impression to be carrying over onto the streets of San Francisco.
Steven Jenkins, a 39-year-old homeless man with a protracted historical past of extreme psychological sickness, was arrested on fees of assaulting two Asian residents, together with a 75-year-old lady who, based on the headlines flashed all over the world, 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 e mail inbox full of hateful messages questioning why he, as an Asian American, was defending somebody accused of such an odious assault towards Asians.
Once I met McBurney for a espresso this week, he informed me he understood what he was up towards 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 for the reason that assault, McBurney has waged a battle towards 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 usually tough and chaotic avenue situations of the homeless in San Francisco.
“This case has nothing to do with anti-Asian hate,” McBurney mentioned. “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 sequence of high-profile attacks against Asian people. Six of the eight individuals killed within the Atlanta shootings have 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 fear across the Bay Area Asian community.
The coronavirus and the insults of former President Donald J. Trump concerning the “Kung flu” unleashed flat-out hatred towards Asian Individuals, 1000’s of examples of which have been documented across the country by activist teams.
The household of Xiao Zhen Xie, the lady 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 acknowledged that she is afraid to step out of her residence any more.”
Specialists have mentioned that whereas the ache and concern of being focused for being Asian are respectable and have to be addressed, it’s usually inconceivable to parse the precise 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 displaying 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 a variety 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 photographs that streamed all over the world 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 towards Asians. He mentioned 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 mentioned. “You’re all the time feeling you don’t belong.”
McBurney, 48, spent 20 years busing and ready tables, doing backyard work and different odd jobs earlier than creating 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 Legislation 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 further motivation.”
“It’s when the entire world is towards 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 all the time desires to see extra. Comply with alongside right here or on Twitter.