Chinatown Night Out Returns after Pandemic Pause

Chinatown Night Out returned to Portsmouth Square Thurs., Sept. 6, 2021 after a one-year pandemic pause, with about 1,000 community members joining SF SAFE, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and numerous event sponsors for the 7th annual event.

The special evening, aimed at building community connections toward a safer San Francisco, included remarks from numerous city leaders, such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed, SFPD Chief William Scott, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, SFPD Central Station Captain Julian Ng, Rev. Norman Fong, Norman Yee, Carmen Chu and other stakeholders.

Amidst beautiful end-of-summer weather and a jubilant atmosphere, attendees spanning generations enjoyed a complimentary dinner distributed in SF SAFE totes by SFPD recruits, as well as giveaways and SFPD horses, robots, motorcycles, SWAT team, Marine Unit and quad on hand. Another highlight of the event included a “roaring performance” by Leung’s White Crane Dragon and Lion Dance Association—adorned in traditional Chinese lion costumes in yellow and white—to the beat of accompanying drummers.

Taking to the podium, Mayor Breed said it was great to be together again at Chinatown Night Out after a pandemic pause last year and said that for the elected officials on stage, “nothing is more important to us than investing in this community, investing in your safety and your wellbeing.” She underscored that, during this pandemic, “our Asian community in particular, has, you all know, experienced some of the most challenging times, with many of the attacks on our seniors—attacks that we have said, time and time again, we will not tolerate.”

The mayor went on to say that she has a meeting scheduled with the California attorney general “to have an important conversation about what we need to continue to do to protect people against some of the violent attacks, and many of the hate crimes that we have sadly seen over this past year.” She added that “Because if one of us is attacked, then we all have to stand together in solidarity—which is why you see so many leaders from across the city here to stand with you on this night, to make sure that you feel safe.”

Winding down her remarks, Mayor Breed told Chinatown residents to “look out for one another, take care of one another, take advantage of these great resources that we have available. Say ‘hi’ to your police captain, say ‘hi’ to your fire chief and your police chief and make sure that we demonstrate to people all over San Francisco this is a community that looks out for one another. This is a community that stays together. This is a community that will be safe because we will continue to protect one another.”

She wrapped up by thanking everyone involved with the event, particularly all the community organizations and partners that have “been there for this community.”

Following the mayor, SFPD Chief William Scott took the podium and expressed his appreciation to everyone there, including the mayor, Board of Supervisors, his SFPD colleagues and recruits and everyone who supported the event by coming out.

“The concept of National Night Out is about police, community, city government all working together to solve problems and to make our communities safer and better,” said the chief, who went on to share three key safety tips with the Chinatown community.

“Number one, it’s already been said, but we all have to look out for each other. A lot of what we see, people being victimized in our city, they’re walking alone. People who want to do bad things tend to prey on people they can take advantage of. So number one, if you can have somebody with you when you’re going about your business, walk in groups.” He took time to remind community members about a program the mayor introduced recently where ambassadors will walk with people to the bank, the grocery store or wherever people are going so they have a companion. “So tip number one, if you can walk in groups, walk with another person,” said the chief.

“Tip number two, if you see something, say something…it is really important that you report crimes if you’re a victim of a crime or if you see a crime, because that’s how we know where to put our officers,” said the chief. “We don’t care about immigration status, we don’t care who you are, where you came from, any of that—what we care about is that we keep our community safe and we report crime.”

“And this third one is not so much a safety tip, but it’s just something that we all should be doing. We are a community. Please, get to know us, get to know the officers—and many of you already do. Get to know your captain, get to know the officers, the sergeants, lieutenants in your district, because if we know each other, we take care of each other better. So we’re here for you—Captain Ng and his staff, his officers. Get to know us, we’re there for you.”

During Chinatown Night Out, SF SAFE caught up with some of the community leaders who not only came together to make the event a success, but who also support safety in Chinatown on an ongoing basis as part of their work. Here’s what they had to say about Chinatown Night Out:

Sup. Shamann Walton, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors: “I’m here as the president of the Board of Supervisors representing our board and [am] here to support our community in Chinatown and let them know we do everything we can as a board to promote safety and awareness about safety. And a night like tonight brings everyone together for us to do that.”

Joaquín Torres, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder: “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for a community to come back together and know that they’re supported by the diversity of the city from the police departments who are here on the ground, new officers who’ll be coming in to support community—so that they can see in language and face that they are both reflected and who is serving them and respected by who is serving them. And that is, I think, one of the most important things for people to feel like they can come back and live and be welcomed to safe spaces together after we spent so much time away from each other.”

SFPD Assistant Chief Michael Redmond: “It’s been a challenge obviously with COVID and the community engagement as we went into a time of Zoom and teams and all kinds of things, so I don’t think there’s anything better than one-on-one interaction between human beings that care about the safety of their communities and want to work together. And I think that’s what we’re excited about coming back. And even if it’s not one-on-one, it’s in a group setting where people can just have, you know, serious conversations because one of the things that I’ve seen over time is when you’re on the computers and things like that, people are disconnected. No one has their cameras on and you know when you’re in a room and you’re having, even if it is a tough conversation, at least you’re in the room having that conversation.

“I think it’s not only about community safety but even some of the things that the department’s doing to reduce violence and things like that. Some of the intervention work is being in the room with different communities that have problems with the police department, and just being able to have those conversations. They get to know the person that wears a uniform. For us, it’s really stressed that the community needs to know you as a person, because sometimes they look at the uniform as being negative. And it’s our job to change that.”

SFPD Commander Peter Walsh: “Chinatown Night Out is an extension of National Night Out, and we’re bringing it to another level in the community to make a great attempt at outreach to gain those bonds. Captain Ng has done an incredible job getting this together, and already has these bonds, but it’s just one of those things that goes in with community engagement, community policing, just to [be] here on a night where nothing’s going on except for us to exchange ideas, try to solve some problems and get communication open.” He added, “It’s really just getting to know your community and to let them know that we’re part of the community and that we’re here to help them any way we can.”

Sarah Wan, executive director of the Community Youth Center: “Like many other community partners, we’ve been part of this event since the beginning, seven years ago. And every year, this event has become bigger and bigger. We really hope that this will encourage our residents to come out, get to meet all the police officers, so that if there’s any troubles that happen or if they need to make any report, they feel more comfortable to do so.”

Lily Ho, president of the Delta Chinatown Initiative: “It’s so terrific to see the police officers and SF SAFE have come out and interact with the community; it makes a huge difference when the community in Chinatown gets to have this face-to-face interaction and we get to build these relationships. And I think the relationship-building between the police department and the community is so critical to everything that keeps our community safe. You guys being out here to remind our community and our seniors to report crimes, for one. We know that that’s really important because we do know that crime has been underreported…I feel like the stronger the relationship our community has with the police department and SF SAFE, the better it is for everyone.”

-Kathy Chouteau