One out-of-context sentence from a New York Times interview is the latest fodder for right-wing media and the Recall Chesa crowd to throw, well, temper tantrums.
It seems an article of faith among critics of San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin that there was basically no crime in San Francisco prior to his tenure, and that now people need to become Batman if they have any prayer of surviving under his watch. The opposition to the deputy-public-defender-turned-district-attorney has created a strange bedfellows alliance of conservative media, wealthy tech types who frequent the Clubhouse app, and various segments of the SF immigrant community. And each of these disparate demographics is getting their two cents of hate in over one cherry-picked sentence from a recent New York Times story addressing the Jan. 28 fatal assault of Anza Vista resident Vichar Ratanapakdee that made national headlines.
The Brutal Attack on a Thai Man in San Francisco Outrages Asian-Americans https://t.co/vPBG8wCSzj— Thomas Fuller (@thomasfullerNYT) February 27, 2021
In reference to the alleged attacker Antoine Watson, Boudin told the Times that “It appears that the defendant was in some sort of a temper tantrum.” This outraged the victim’s family, who told KGO “He knew what he was doing. Hearing this excuse of a hissy fit is really upsetting." KGO also describes the term “temper tantrum” as “a term more often used to describe toddlers,” which seems a subjective conclusion.
Fox News has a performative anti-hate crime take giving Boudin more grief for the phrase, as does the hard-right Washington Times. Boudin’s Twitter antagonistes are also at it, none of them noticing that Watson is charged with murder and being held without bail.
Some media outlets are intentionally taking my words out of context to suggest that I am minimizing a horrific crime.— Chesa Boudin 博徹思 (@chesaboudin) March 2, 2021
Let me be clear, as I was in my NYT interview: This was a heinous crime and my heart goes out to the victim’s family. pic.twitter.com/ZTWQ1oXF9c
The full Times article, though, notes that Watson had an evening full of aggravated incidents before the attack. He’d been in a car accident, was charged by SFPD with running a stop sign and reckless driving, and was seen on surveillance video before the attack pounding on another vehicle. The Times adds that Boudin “says there is no evidence to suggest it was motivated by racial animus,” though obviously tensions are high in the Asian-American community after a nearly year-long spike in COVID-19 era hate crimes.
It may also be relevant, as the Times notes, that in the Oakland Chinatown attack three days later, the “older victim has been wrongly described in many news accounts as Asian. Court documents give the victim’s name as Gilbert Diaz, and Carl Chan, a community leader and president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said the victim was Latino.”
There is plainly a spike in attacks on Asian-Americans in the Bay Area, but prosecutors are unlikely (and unwise) to file hate charges without proof. Moreover, the crime rate under Boudin’s administration is generally assessed using singular anecdotes and sound bites rather than actual SFPD crime data. The above graphic is not completely up to date, it only includes 2021 data for January, and it’s unclear whether Vichar Ratanapakdee’s death is included in the three homicides listed for January 2021. Window-smashings and burglary are far too common as shelter-in-place drags on, a problem many cites are having. But the true-to-script critiques of Boudin often have the feel of pre-written tantrums.
Image: San Francisco District Attorney’s Office