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Community Patrol Groups Are Working to Keep Asian American Elders Safe

Older asian couple walking in nature.

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Key Takeaways

  • Community groups like Compassion in Oakland were founded in response to the uptick in violence against the Asian community.
  • Compassion in Oakland mobilizes volunteers to walk and escort Asian elders and business owners to their final destination. 
  • Community solutions utilize a developmental model, which can help decrease bias and judgment.

In response to the recent uptick in violence against the AAPI community, especially Asian elders, a Bay area resident Jacob Azevedo posted on his Instagram offering to walk anyone who felt unsafe home. The post went viral, catalyzing a movement of people who also wanted to help stop the violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Throughout March of this year, community patrol groups began to crop up across the United States in an effort to stop AAPI hate and as a means to reduce police presence in BIPOC communities. From Azevedo's post, Compassion in Oakland was formed.

“The organization was really just formed out of response to what’s been happening in the Asian American community, especially to our elderly,” Jessica Owyoung, cofounder of Compassion in Oakland, tells Verywell. 

Since Compassion in Oakland’s inception, Owyoung says the organization has received over a hundred requests from the community to walk and chaperone. “Most of our efforts have been really focusing on canvassing the community with our fliers, talking to community members, talking to business owners about what we can do to help,” Owyoung explains. “If they’re closing up their shop, then we would walk them, stand with them, and wait until they’re all secured and safe.” 

How Does Compassion in Oakland Work?

People can call the organization to request a volunteer to walk them to their destination if they feel unsafe. Compassion in Oakland staff will then pair elderly folks or business owners with available volunteers.

Because people who call in speak multiple languages, Owyoung says that they try to link people with bilingual speakers. “Chinese is the main language spoken in Oakland Chinatown," Owyoung says. "So we try to link people that speak Chinese."

Once the organization pairs a volunteer and elder, Compassion and Oakland will call the elder to give them more information on the person they are meeting and exchange contact information. To help elders identify volunteers, volunteers wear Compassion in Oakland t-shirts.

Policing Is a Public Health Issue 

Community patrol groups like Compassion in Oakland are a welcome reprieve from traditional forms of policing in many BIPOC communities.

According to William Lopez, PhD, MPH, clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health whose research focuses on the health impacts of immigration law enforcement, policing is a public health issue. “Policing is one of the only professions in which the use of force and the ability to kill is part of the field,” Lopez tells Verywell. “We see disparate rates of violence in different communities based on race. So often, there’s more police in particular areas that are communities of color so, with more interactions, there are more opportunities for violence.” 

According to the VERA Institute of Justice, over-policing results in more Black people being arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. "The sentencing of crack cocaine is a great example," Lopez says. "So many White folks who were using cocaine were not put in prison. We see the same thing with marijuana. We see a prison full of people who are Black and Brown who sold marijuana before it was legal. Now, they’ll have trouble getting jobs for the rest of their lives.”

Lopez adds that current police culture is deeply rooted in the history of slave patrols, groups that were formed as a means to control the behavior of slaves and prevent them from rebelling. “Skin color was used to mark somebody as breaking the law," Lopez says. "So ever since those days, Black skin has become a marker for illegalities." Lopez says this legacy bleeds into how police function today. Current policing practices include hot spot policing, a method used by police to patrol an area with high concentrations of crime based on available data.

“We saw Eric Garner choked to death on the sidewalk in Staten Island," Lopez says. "Folks who look like Eric Garner, or maybe profiled like Eric Garner are not going to be apt to use those same sidewalks." People may feel unsafe walking in their own neighborhoods. This in turn can negatively impact community health, where acts of violence change a community’s ability to go to places that keep them healthy. 

What This Means For You

If you are located in Oakland and are interested in volunteering with Compassion in Oakland, register here. If you are located outside of the Oakland area and would still like to support, Compassion in Oakland is accepting donations. You can get involved in keeping your community safe by searching for community patrol groups in your area.

Why Community Groups Are Important

In contrast to the policing system, racial justice educator and equity strategist Kerry Mitchell Brown, PhD, MBA tells Verywell that what makes community groups so integral is that they utilize a developmental model. “Developmental meaning that people are taking time to learn about folks in the community, taking time to learn who has moved in,” Brown says. “There are opportunities to build deep and long relationships with people in the community.” 

Brown adds that when institutions utilize a developmental model, it can decrease room for bias and judgment. “Community solutions, whether that be the people who live in an area or as in the services that are provided in the community, provide us with more range to see the problems in our communities as something other than violent threats,” Lopez explains. 

While community patrol groups are not an end-all solution, Brown says that community groups are better poised to take a more proactive approach in addressing issues and finding solutions. 

The Future of Compassion in Oakland 

Owyoung says that one of the organization’s goals is to develop an app that will facilitate a smoother process for volunteer registration and pairing. Currently, all matching is conducted over the phone. Owyoung hopes that by having an app, it will allow the organization to scale their operations to handle volunteer requests more efficiently. 

“Our main goal is really to just keep the community safe," Owyoung says. "One of the biggest ways to support the AAPI community is really just to talk about the issue and stand up against AAPI hate."

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  1. Compassion in Oakland. About Us.

  2. Vera Institute of Justice. An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System. Updated May 2018.

  3. Time. How the U.S. Got Its Police Force. Updated May 10, 2017.