AURORA | An effort to address hostility and bias against Asian residents in Aurora is comforting to Harry Budisidharta, but the very need for this new concerted community and police plan to fight bigotry saddens him.
The Aurora Police Department and the 18th District Attorney’s Office held a virtual meeting to discuss hate crimes against Asian Americans Monday night, following an Atlanta shooting last week that targeted several Asian-owned day spas.
Budisidharta, executive Director of Asian Pacific Development Center, was host to the meeting, along with members of the law enforcement community.
About 200 people joined online.
Reeling from the Atlanta area massacre, Monday’s meeting came on the heels of another mass shooting. Ten people, including a police officer, were shot dead at a King Soopers in Boulder earlier Monday.
The Atlanta shootings brought the longstanding issue of hatred and mistreatment of Asian Americans into recent headlines.
“Hate crimes are not a new issue for the Asian community,” he said.
Hate crimes are a systemic issue that are fed by racist laws and policies, he said. When politicians repeat phrases like the “China virus” and “kung flu” in reference to COVID-19, it emboldens people to treat Asian-Americans poorly.
Hate crimes and dehumanizing language about Asians are designed to “make it seem as if we are not part of the fabric of American society and not deserving of equal protection under the law,” Budisidharta said.
A rally against anti-Asian hate crimes is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the state Capitol. He asked people to attend to show their support.
“Our community is strong, our community is resilient and we will get through this with the support of our allies,” he said.
Budisidharta began the meeting with a moment of silence for Boulder shooting victims. Aurora Police Department Chief Vanessa Wilson later held a moment of silence for the eight victims of the Atlanta shooting.
Wilson said that the department is serious about addressing bias-related incidents and asked people to report hate crimes to ADP by calling 303-627-3100. If an incident is in process, call 911. Interpreters are available at no cost, she said.
Wilson said that APD has increased patrols around Asian-owned businesses and houses of worship in Aurora in order to build connections with the community and act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators.
APD is currently going through implicit bias training, said Claudine McDonald, who works in community relations for the department. McDonald, who said she is part of the Pacific Islander community, said that she understands who some people from the community might not feel like they can go to law enforcement and that the department is committed to gaining people’s trust.
John Kellner, the 18th Judicial District Attorney, also urged people to report hate crimes to law enforcement.
“We cannot prosecute what is not reported and we certainly cannot prosecute what is not investigated,” he said.
The 18th Judicial District is home to Colorado’s largest Asian American community, and Kellner said he takes his responsibility to prosecute anti-Asian hate crimes seriously.
On average, the district prosecutes around 30 hate crimes a year, he said. In 2019, that number dipped to 22, but rose to 33 in 2021. He said he does not want a repeat of that increase in 2021.
A bias-motivated crime team has been assembled at the office, and Kellner said he has been inundated with members of the district who are interested in being a part of it.
Kellner said the office wants to be proactive about combating hate, and he and Budisidharta started discussing hosting a meeting like this about a month ago, before the Atlanta shooting.
“This horrible event illustrates why it’s so important to stand up for our neighbors, be there for one another and say we will not tolerate that hate here,” he said.
Brain Sugioka, chief deputy DA, discussed the legal definition of a bias-motivated incident. Sugioka said that he is in Colorado “because of racism.” His parents fled from California to Colorado because of Executive Order 9066, the order that paved the way for Japanese internment during WWII.
Because of that, Sugioka said he has every reason to mistrust the government. However, he said he decided to work in law enforcement because he’s seen “how much good we can do” with leaders who are dedicated to justice.
In response to an audience question about whether hate crime legislation could be improved, Kellner said that the state legislature could clarify that people often have more than one motive for their actions. Sometimes the office has a common-sense knowledge that something was hate-motivated, but does not prosecute it that way because it does not think it could prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a hate crime, he said.
That came up last week, as people discussed whether the Atlanta shooting suspect was driven by anti-Asian bias, misogyny (seven of the victims were women) or a combination of both. A motive has not yet been released by law enforcement.
People are complex,” Kellner said. “They do things for more than just one reason.”