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San Jose Community Organizes Foot Patrols To Protect Asian Elders


Concerned residents in San Jose's Japantown have started civilian foot patrols to prevent violence against older Asian Americans. It's one of the many cities that have started such community watches over the last year. From member station KQED, Adhiti Bandlamudi reports.

ADHITI BANDLAMUDI, BYLINE: San Jose police began upping its patrols of Japantown and Little Saigon months ago. But it wasn't enough for local residents to feel safe.

Jena Yoshida lives a few blocks from Japantown. She jogs around this neighborhood all the time. And these days, she's been on high alert.

JEAN YOSHIDA: It really made me think that if I'm feeling this way, I couldn't imagine what some of the senior population were feeling about just being able to get out of their house, go to the market, just run their daily errands.

BANDLAMUDI: Recent anti-Asian attacks have alarmed locals like Yoshida and prompted some of them to take security into their own hands.

YOSHIDA: That really was one of the things that got me thinking I need to be out there. I need to be an extra set of eyes.

BANDLAMUDI: So that's why she got involved with the neighborhood safety group called Japantown Prepared! It started a decade ago as a natural disaster response service. But it's now shifted its focus to protecting older Asian residents. Yoshida is getting trained to patrol and engage in conversation with people behaving in a threatening manner. She carries no weapons, not even pepper spray.

YOSHIDA: Confrontation's not my thing. But if it is a matter of deterring something that might happen to somebody else, I'm OK with that.

BANDLAMUDI: Japantown Prepared! makes a special effort to patrol around the Yu-Ai Kai Senior Center. The organization serves about 700 people a week with a lunch service, adult daycare and activities like Japanese language classes and bingo.

JENNIFER MASUDA: The seniors really appreciate it. I think just having that peace of mind means so much to them.

BANDLAMUDI: Jennifer Masuda is the executive director of the organization.

MASUDA: To be able to know that they can leave their home to pick up lunch, go grocery shopping here in Japantown.

BANDLAMUDI: Masuda says many have been hesitant to walk around the city, especially since last June, when an older woman, a Yu-Ai Kai member, was mugged right across the street from the senior center. She says they feel more aware of their ethnic identity.

MASUDA: And I think they also feel like, you know, eyes are on them. And do people look at them? And how is that person feeling?

RICH SAITO: Hi, everybody.


SAITO: We're here to keep you safe.

BANDLAMUDI: Rich Saito is a retired San Jose police officer who founded Japantown Prepared! Saito has become increasingly concerned about violence against older residents in recent months. A Cal State San Bernardino study found attacks against Asian Americans in San Jose alone more than doubled last year. Then last month, a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent.

SAITO: I get angry that people take out their aggressions on unsuspecting, undeserving, defenseless people. So it makes me want to do things, you know, something.

BANDLAMUDI: That something is to patrol The streets of Japantown in bright-red vests. Saito is planning for the long haul. But volunteer Jean Yoshida doesn't want this anxiety to hang over her head for much longer.

YOSHIDA: I hope, you know, that this is just a temporary thing for now.

BANDLAMUDI: Meanwhile, Japantown Prepared!'s inbox is full with requests from people eager to join the group. For NPR News, I'm Adhiti Bandlamudi in San Jose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.