It was March 17, the day after the Atlanta spa shootings, and a nationwide wave of violence in opposition to Asian Individuals appeared 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 girl who, in response to 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 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 shopper.
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 shopper hinges not on racial hatred however on psychological sickness and the customarily tough and chaotic road circumstances 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 every year, on common.”
“His thoughts is damaged.”
The assaults Jenkins is accused of committing got here amid a sequence of high-profile assaults in opposition to Asian folks. Six of the eight folks 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 concern throughout the Bay Space Asian group.
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, 1000’s 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 probably 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 dwelling any more.”
Specialists have mentioned that whereas the ache and concern of being focused for being Asian are legit and have to be addressed, it’s typically inconceivable to parse the particular motivations of assailants.
In an uncommon try to dispel the notion that his shopper 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 instances by quite a few 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 Road. Jenkins staggers, turns round and swings. He strikes Xie, who’s on a road nook, within the face.
Tackled by a safety guard, Jenkins is on the bottom when Xie hits Jenkins’s toes with a picket 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 pictures that streamed all over the world confirmed Jenkins on a stretcher with a bloodied face and Xie close by holding a picket board. The story of the aged Asian girl 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 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 growing a ardour for literature and the legislation. He has a grasp’s diploma in English literature from the College of Utah and went to the College of Iowa Faculty 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 find it irresistible,” McBurney rapidly shot again. “It’s further motivation.”
“It’s when the entire world is in opposition to your shopper, 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 all around 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.