There’s never been a harder time to operate a small business in California.
Asian Pacific Islander-owned small businesses — like those our organization represents across Southern California — have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 and the economic fallout.
According to a survey from the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, more than 80% of small business owners reported adverse effects from the pandemic, with 44% reducing staff last year.
If the economic impacts weren’t enough, there is another issue quickly overwhelming small businesses in the API community: rising crime.
Hate crimes are on the rise in Southern California, and small businesses are unfortunately on the front lines. Members of our organization are seeing and feeling this troubling trend firsthand.
Nationally, surveys report nearly 1 in 3 female API business owners have experienced anti-API sentiment because of the pandemic. It’s becoming so bad that many people feel unsafe after dark in parts of Los Angeles like Little Tokyo and Chinatown.
And the challenges don’t stop at hate crimes.
Shoplifting and thefts from businesses are becoming more brazen and more dangerous. A 36-year-old Rite Aid employee in Glassell Park was tragically murdered while confronting shoplifters this month, showing these are far from victimless crimes.
When confronted with hate crimes and an environment that lacks accountability, this is an extremely concerning time for API small business owners.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently acknowledged that crime is a growing problem for businesses. He extended a law to prosecute organized shoplifting crime rings and expanded a California Highway Patrol-led task force dedicated to the effort. While the governor’s willingness to acknowledge the problem deserves credit, more help is desperately needed.
Smaller companies are particularly vulnerable to crime because they often lack the resources for dedicated security or other measures.
According to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation, the average cost of a shoplifting incident was $270.
That’s costly to a small company, especially when it happens repeatedly.
To better protect small businesses, California needs to send a clear message that there will be accountability for people who repeatedly break the law. If individuals committing crimes know there won’t be punishment, it encourages them to go further and further.
Unfortunately, California lawmakers are considering going in the opposite direction under a bill that would enact $0 bail permanently across California.
When the pandemic began, courts enacted a temporary emergency order that required communities across California to automatically release suspects arrested for most crimes without requiring any bail.
While other counties ended the temporary $0 bail order, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has embraced zero bail here locally. It is one of several reasons he is facing a significant recall effort.
Santa Clarita and two dozen cities across the county have joined the effort and passed no-confidence motions in Gascón’s performance because crime is becoming such a glaring issue.
The past 18 months have thrown challenge after challenge to small business owners in the API community and throughout California.
We need meaningful action against rising crime, not more failed policies like zero bail.
I myself was a victim of property crime in 2016, a clear result of increasing thresholds for felonies in 2014 through Proposition 47. This trend has continued with DA Gascón’s policies and not prosecuting “gateway” crimes.
In addition, the API community is often the first targeted because we report crimes less and are perceived not to be as apt to fight back.
That has made us particularly vulnerable during this recent crime wave.
Fortunately, some communities are taking a stand. In addition to passing a no-confidence resolution on DA Gascón, the city of Santa Clarita has also formally opposed the state’s proposed zero bail law, Senate Bill 262.
After surviving one of the most challenging times for small businesses, rising crime should not have to be another obstacle to recovery.
While more action is certainly needed to reverse current trends, stopping Los Angeles County and the rest of California from permanently adopting zero bail is the best place to start.
Marc Ang is president and founder of Asian Industry B2B, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization that is focused on uplifting the Asian communities in Southern California through pro-business and pro-family activities and initiatives. He is also the co-chair of the Recall Gascón Now Committee.