SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Amid a wave of attacks on Asians in the Bay Area and across the U.S., Gov. Gavin Newsom met with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community leaders in San Francisco Friday to condemn the acts and commit to working with them to combat racism.

Newsom visited the Chinese Culture Center on the eastern edge of the city’s Chinatown Friday and during a press conference he lauded the local Asian American leaders for the work they have already done in fighting bigotry and acts of hate.

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Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) called the recent spate of attacks “the most significant set of anti-Asian attacks that we have experienced in our lifetimes” and marked a somber anniversary with the former San Francisco mayor’s appearance in Chinatown.

“I want to just note that today, I understand, reflects the one-year anniversary from when those of us who are Asian legislators asked him to speak out over a year ago on what we saw was the beginning of this skyrocketing trend,” said Chiu. “And I believe he was one of the first, if not the first, governor in the United States to speak out about the hate that we saw a year ago in March 2020.”

Newsom noted the long history of anti-Asian racism in San Francisco and across the country and lamented how people are still dealing with such hate.

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“It breaks your heart. It doesn’t just break your heart, it infuriates, I think all of us, the idea that people have to live in fear because their race, their ethnicity, because the language they speak, because of their age or gender,” said Newsom. “The idea that we are today in 2021 still having conversations we were having in 1881, a year before the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, is painful and infuriating at the same time. The hell is wrong with us?”

The governor reiterated that the bigotry and racist attacks against Asians have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the rhetoric from former President Donald Trump along with other politicians and their supporters. UCSF researchers this week published a study showing a tweet by former President Donald Trump in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic has been attributed to a precipitous rise in anti-Asian hashtags on the platform.

“This disease has been politicized, this disease has been used as a way to divide this country. And we have to be mindful of the incredible damage that has been done over the last number of years, and mindful of the work that now we must do to immediately call this out and condemn these acts of hate and violence and racial bigotry, the xenophobia, call that out and demand that that ends,” said Newsom. “To hold folks accountable, those who are perpetuating acts of violence, but also hold those accountable that are the quiet perpetrators of hate that may necessarily associate with crimes but with the kind of bigotry that’s whispered or spoken … we gotta start calling all of this out.”

Women seem to be targeted especially by anti-Asian hate and bigotry, said Cynthia Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action

“To date, we have close to 3,800 incidents of verbal and physical attacks against the Asian American community,” said Choi. “We have documented that women were more than twice as likely to be harassed and verbally abused and we are seeing the intersections of racism and sexism being played out, and certainly what happened in the Atlanta area is a reminder that this is the experience of Asian women.”

Choi added that close to 1,700 of the documented incidents come from California.

Assemblymember Chiu said he has co-sponsored a bill which would require the state Department of Justice to establish a new tracking system to report hate crimes and hate incidents.

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