California AG Rob Bonta sounds off on issues since taking office — from hate crimes to int’l Ponzi scheme targeting elderly Filipinos

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the first Fil-Am in the role, previously served as a state assemblymember. | File photo courtesy of CA API Legislative Caucus

‘My goal is to protect Californians who are hurt’

AS Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) comes to a close, the vast Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community continues to reflect on its history and the current seismic cultural shift in the wake of countless attacks against the community.

In California, home to nearly 6 million AAPIs, the conversation of AAPI safety continues as the state battles increased hate crimes against the community. And the state’s newly sworn-in Filipino American Attorney General Rob Bonta vows to make this fight in the current chapter of AAPI history a top concern.

“Being an AAPI and Filipino American has shaped everything that I do, and I will make California’s fights my fight so I’ll make the fights of the AAPI community my fights, especially in this moment of pain, fear and anger,” Bonta told reporters on Thursday, May 27.

As previously reported in the Asian Journal, Bonta, 48, is the state’s first Filipino American attorney general and the second Asian American to occupy the post behind Vice President Kamala Harris, who served between 2011 to 2017.

Chief among his early priorities as attorney general is fighting hate crimes, particularly the rise in anti-Asian and antisemitic harassment and violence.

Through the state’s newly established Racial Justice Bureau, Bonta told the Asian Journal that the state’s approach to preventing and solving hate crimes will be centered around addressing specific community needs and collaborative solutions.

The bureau will take on a number of wide-ranging practices including: investigating hate-based organizations, working with school districts to create policies and practices that protect youth who are facing discrimination and partnerships with local law enforcement and various civil rights agencies across the state to more thoroughly investigate hate crime cases.

“There’s been so many who felt the sting of hate in California and in this country over many years, and there are many who are feeling it stronger now, and it’s important that we take care of one another and it’s important that the California attorney general take care of those who are being targeted and attacked,” Bonta said.

When it comes to policing, Bonta — a staunch supporter for police reform — said that law enforcement’s solution to handling hate incidents and hate crimes is not increasing the number of police patrols but rather utilizing and enforcing the resources it already has.

“I think that we have a lot of tools in the toolbox now that we’re not using, and we should be using those,” Bonta told the Asian Journal. “We don’t have existing law enforcement properly trained and resourced to investigate and identify hate crimes when they occur. We already have hate crime enhancements on our, in our penal code and on our law books. They’re available as appropriate to be used when, when someone is attacked based on a protected class including their race, so I think we have sufficient tools, we just need to use them, and marshal them as appropriate. So let’s do that first.”

Bonta also commented on the Wednesday, May 26 shooting in San Jose — which claimed the life of nine victims, including one Filipino American — arguing that California, one of the strictest states when it comes to firearms, “should do more” to address gun violence in the state.

“I think any common-sense action that can save a life we should take,” Bonta said. “And I’d be proud to support policies that save lives and move the needle. California has done its part [and] has kind of lived up in many ways to its leadership role in this nation but clearly there’s more to do here in California and clearly there’s more to do at the federal level.”

He continued, “We have our children screaming at us, you know, those who are saying, I just want to go to school without fear of a mass shooting in our school or having to do a mass shooting drill. This is our bitter, tragic reminder that we have fallen behind here in the United States behind the rest of the world in keeping people safe from gun violence.”

Bonta also commented on the recent international Ponzi scheme in which at least 30 people — mostly elderly Filipinos — in the Sacramento and Stockton areas were duped into investing in a yet-to-be opened resort in the Philippines.

According to Bonta’s office, 15 people were charged on Friday, May 22 with conspiring to defraud these victims of a combined $5 million. Bonta was unable to supply updates to the case, but he promised that elder financial abuse remains a top priority for his office.

“My goal is to protect Californians who are hurt and harmed and abused and mistreated. I see my role as a people’s attorney [is to] stand up for the little guy and protect them from the abuse overreach of authority of the big guy, and to make sure that communities that are vulnerable and disadvantaged and targeted are protected,” Bonta said. “And that’s who we are supporting here, there are people who did nothing wrong but were made false promises and defrauded and mistreated and those who committed the crimes, whoever they are, will be brought to justice and be held accountable.”

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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