MANAA Demands Hate Crime Charges in Torrance Attacks

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Participants in a rally/workout against anti-Asian racism in Torrance’s Wilson Park on July 11. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

The following statement on behalf of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) was submitted July 20 as a public comment to the Torrance City Council in advance of its meeting on July 21.

It calls for Lena Hernandez to be charged for hate crimes and assault for incidents in which Asian Americans were targeted.

Ron Chun was part of the July 11 press conference at Wilson Park, which was supported by organizations like MANAA and JACL

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My name is Ron Chun. I am a founding board member of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and a practicing lawyer. MANAA is an all-volunteer media watchdog group which was formed in 1992. We meet on an annual basis with the presidents and vice presidents of the top four television networks pushing for better inclusion of Asian/Pacific Islanders.

We formed shortly after the half-year coverage of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1991 led to several hate crimes against Asian Americans. In 1993, we launched a nationwide protest against the racially divisive movie “Rising Sun.” And in 2001, we went after comedian Sarah Silverman for using a racial slur against Chinese people in a joke on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, which led our founding president, Guy Aoki, to debate her on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.”

On June 12, Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey and Police Chief Eve Berg held a press conference where they asserted how horrified they were by the actions of Lena Hernandez in three incidents involving Asian Americans — one at Del Amo Fashion Center on Oct. 14, 2019 and the other two at Wilson Park on June 10, 2020. The Wilson Park conflicts were caught on video that went viral: one involving Sherry Bulseco — who was exercising on the stairs — and the other involving a father, his two sons.

During this press conference, the Torrance Police announced that they were looking for Hernandez and asked for the public’s help to find her. What was appalling to us and the Asian American community was that once they did find Ms. Hernandez, the Torrance Police failed to file any charges against her. Sgt. Alexander Martinez said this was because Ms. Hernandez did not commit these assaults in the presence of a police officer.

This is ridiculous.

Is he saying that Torrance Police wouldn’t charge someone with murder unless the perpetrator killed someone in front of the police? If this were the law, then no one would be prosecuted or convicted for murder.

Last October, Kayceelyn Salminao filed a police report saying when she came to the aid of a janitor who was being verbally assaulted by Lena Hernandez in the bathroom of the Del Amo Fashion Center, Hernandez physically assaulted her. But the Torrance Police Department didn’t take her complaint seriously. It was only after the Wilson Park racist assault videos went viral that Torrance Police contacted her again and asked her to file a report. She was flabbergasted, saying she already did — that they should just look at her original complaint.

It was only after pressure from the Asian American community that on July 2 the Torrance City Attorney’s Office charged Hernandez with battery in the Del Amo incident. However, they didn’t go far enough. They didn’t hold her responsible for the assaults at Wilson Park.

Section 422.6(a) of the Penal Code provides: (a) No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States in whole or in part because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed in subdivision (a) of Section 422.55.

In other words, Section 422.6(a) makes it a criminal “hate crime” in California to threaten someone by force and to willfully intimidate or interfere with the free exercise of any constitutional or legal right due to their race or ethnicity.

In order to win a case in front of a jury, in addition to the statutory requirements, a prosecutor must show that the threat made by assailant would have caused a reasonable person to be afraid (see jury instructions for Hate Crime: Misdemeanor Interference with Civil Rights by Threat, CalCrim. No. 1351).

In the video of the first assault at Wilson Park on June 10, 2020, after bumping into Sherry Bulseco, Hernandez stated, “The next time you ever talk to me like that, you’re gonna get your ass kicked by my family! They’re gonna f— you up! That’s right. They’re gonna f— you up!… Get the f— outta this state! Go back to whatever f—ing Asian country you belong… This is not your place! This is not your home! We do not want you here!”

Hernandez then says she hopes that Bulseco posts the video on Facebook, believing, “Every f—ing person will beat the crap out of you from here on out.”

That same day, in the parking lot, Hernandez got into an argument with and threatened an Asian American family – a dad with his two sons.

Lena Hernandez said, “I am not a racist person,” then proceeded to act like one, telling him he had to go home. When he responded that he was from the United States, she retorted: “You know how many people can’t stand you being here? You play games, we don’t play games. I play games where you get f—ed to death.” She then called him “Chinaman” four times, repeating in a stereotypical Asian accent, “You understand me, Chinaman?” “This is from my government! Go home!” then four variations of “You are going to get f—ed.”

These threats due to race interfered with the safety and enjoyment of Ms. Bulseco while exercising in a public park and the Asian American dad and his two sons in the parking lot at Wilson Park.

Lena’s threats of violence had long-standing effects. At the Wilson Park rally on July 11, 2020, the ten-year-old son of the Asian American dad stated that he was worried that Lena would hurt him, his dad and his younger brother. He still has nightmares from this incident.

A reasonable person would be afraid of these threats of violence, fearing for their safety and possibly their life.

After experiencing these rants, would you feel at ease to go to Wilson Park? Lena Hernandez should be charged with hate crimes, so that she does not assault another person either verbally or physically.

In addition, we can also make a case for charging Lena Hernandez with assault.

California Penal Code 240 specifies that “assault” is an unlawful attempt coupled with the present ability to commit a violent injury on the person of another.

In this case, Ms. Hernandez intended to cause harm to or make offensive contact with the victims. And it reasonably appeared to these victims that she or her family or friends could carry out her threats.

We therefore believe that Ms. Hernandez should be charged with hate crimes and assault in the cases of the Asian American victims at Wilson Park.

The Torrance City Attorney’s Office concluded there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Ms. Hernandez because there were “critical gaps in the evidence regarding how each incident unfolded.”

Why does that even matter? We know the racist hate language and threats were used.

Lena Hernandez has shown a propensity to physically attack others. She was convicted of two counts of battery in Long Beach on April 8, 2020 and spent five days in jail for it. She was also convicted of a separate hit-and-run incident in February of this year.

Our community has also been aware of a disturbing rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in Torrance that were reported in mainstream and community media outlets since the Wilson Park attacks.

Recently, a Japanese American man and his 13-year-old son were leaving a Starbucks at Rolling Hills Plaza when a man tried to goad the father into a fight, pushed him and yelled, “Get out of this country. Go back to your country!” (Rafu Shimpo, 7-9-10).

On June 15, the owner of a Japanese cookware store in Torrance found a message posted on its door warning him to move out or anonymous people were going to bomb his business and they knew where he lived. (KCET, 6-17-20).

On July 13, a white man threw rocks through the window of Matsui Restaurant, also damaging two nearby cars. He yelled, “Japanese caused 9/11!” Luckily, he was later arrested. (Pacific Citizen, 7-17-20)

What is going on?! Why would anyone want to come to your city to live, to shop, and to support your businesses with their money? Why would anyone bring their family to Torrance if they knew their children couldn’t peacefully play in the park or shop at a store or even go to Starbucks because there are so many racists who apparently feel free to threaten them with physical harm and who tell them to go back to their “f—ing country” — when that country is the United States of America? Racists who assert, “This is not your home!” when their home is Torrance?

This in a city where Asian/Pacific Islanders make up more than 36% of its population. If these racist incidents continue, many might move out, which would greatly reduce the property tax and sales tax the city earns from them.

The eyes of California are watching the City of Torrance, which is looking insincere in its supposed concern about what happened to Kayceelyn Salminao, Sherry Bulseco and the Asian American dad and his two sons at Wilson Park. The City of Torrance has not acted appropriately in responding to the outrage of the Asian American community and people of all races who support prosecuting Lena Hernandez for the two assaults — as evidenced by the petition with over 21,300 signatures.

If further charges aren’t brought against Ms. Hernandez — with these viral videos still in the minds of thousands of outraged people — you will continue to give the impression that people can verbally threaten Asian Americans with impunity. There will be more violence in our community unless Ms. Hernandez is rightfully charged with hate crimes and assault. And that wouldn’t look good for the City of Torrance.

Mayor Furey and City Council members, you have to prove by your actions — and not just your words — that you will not tolerate such horrendous verbal and physical assaults where people are targeted because of their race.

What action will the city take to ensure that ALL residents feel safe in their public parks and public spaces like Del Amo Mall and Starbucks?

We join with those calling for the creation of an independent police commission with the power to make policy recommendations to the City Council. And at the next Torrance City Council meeting, we want the Parks and Recreation Commission to recommend a plan to “improve the quality of life at all parks and recreational facilities,” ensuring they are “free from hate and harassment.”

For generations, Torrance has always been a haven for Asian and Asian American residents and businesses and now that good reputation has been tarnished by the inaction of the city to prosecute crimes that have targeted our community. Now, hate crimes in Torrance are getting local and national press.

Since almost 60% of the city’s budget pays for public safety, we think this issue warrants a discussion with the public at large and with Asian American businesses and residents. With the nationwide rise in hate crimes against our community, we ask that the mayor and City Council put this issue of Asian American public safety on the agenda of future City Council meetings.

Thank you.

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