When Brooke Jenkins made her first official visit to Chinatown earlier in July, the newly appointed San Francisco District Attorney appeared like a celebrity.
Chinatown leaders and merchants warmly welcomed her, surrounding her for a chat and taking pictures with her. Out-of-town tourists wondered whether Jenkins was an actress.
But on Thursday night in Chinatown, the reception was markedly different. As Jenkins walked into a restaurant hall for a meet-and-greet with community members, a dozen angry protesters were waiting for her, chanting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
DA Jenkins walking into the restaurant while protesters chanting “shame!” pic.twitter.com/KlLhE6I8Y4— Han Li 李晗 (@lihanlihan) July 29, 2022
"We are protesting this woman because she was not elected,” said Maria Cristina Gutierrez. “She was put there by money.”
Gutierrez was one of the well-known “Frisco 5” hunger strikers against police brutality in San Francisco six years ago. And she came to Chinatown to make her message clear: Jenkins was put in office “by millions of dollars that were invested by the rich and powerful of the city that wanted Chesa Boudin to be out.”
In June, San Francisco voters recalled Boudin in a highly watched and contentious political battle, in which recall supporters spent over $7 million while opponents put up only $3 million. Mayor London Breed subsequently appointed Jenkins, who worked for Boudin until her high-profile resignation last October, later joining the recall campaign as a volunteer spokesperson.
Since Jenkins took office earlier this month, Chinatown has been her frequent stop. She was at the Craving Chinatown event and Ping Yuen block party a week ago, and this weekend she’ll attend a 500-people banquet to celebrate her appointment.
As a biracial, Black and Latina woman, Jenkins knows what the Asian community wants to hear from a new DA after two years of surging hate incidents and constant viral videos of violence.
“You don’t have to be Asian to understand what you all are feeling right now,” Jenkins said in front of a cheering and supportive crowd. “I want to be the symbol of our unity.”
She promised to crack down on racially motivated crimes, make public safety her office’s first priority and become the Asian community’s voice for justice.
But for Gutierrez, Jenkins’ tone on aggressive prosecution and a potentially close collaboration with police represent racial division instead. To her, such rhetoric pits the communities against one another.
“It is so sad,” Gutierrez said. “We are equally abused by the police.”
But concerns over anti-Asian hate nonetheless linger in the Asian community, and Jenkins’ approach to restore “law and order” will continue to resonate with many of its members.
“It’s important that our electeds genuinely listen to and understand the needs of the AAPI community,” said Charles Jung, executive director of the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association, who hosted the event Thursday night. “We need to build relationships and trust, so that we can work together to fight Asian hate.”
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]