Asian Americans at the prayer vigil prepared signs.
Asian Americans at a prayer vigil in San Diego in 2021. Photo by Chris Stone

It wasn’t the first time the Pacific Beach resident had been the target of hate. What began as a trip to the bank to deposit checks into her mother’s account turned into one of the most painful and degrading incidents she has experienced.

Mrs. J — she preferred not to be identified for this article — had been going to this branch “since 1995 and have been making those monthly deposits since then.”  But on this particular occasion, a female banker identified as “M” treated the client with suspicion and rudeness.  

The PB resident, who is of Korean descent, believes that banker was motivated by hate. The events that took place in the bank have a specific terminology, according to experts on hate. It was a “hate incident,” which is different from a hate crime. 

Deputy District Atty. Abigail Dillon, who oversees the San Diego County hate crime unit, explained that “hate incidents are action, speech, or behavior that, while motivated by hate, are legally protected by the First Amendment.” 

She said that “these incidents are often precursors to future hate crimes. Reporting hate incidents may also help prove the identity or the motivation of a suspect in a future hate crime.”

In all cases, the San Diego District Attorney‘s office and California Civil Rights Department ask victims to report incidents, which Mrs. J has done. 

In May the Civil Rights Department began  tracking and reporting on hate crimes through a telephone hotline and new website. The goal is to protect Californians from discrimination in employment, housing, businesses, and state-funded programs, and from bias-motivated violence and human trafficking. Over 180 incidents and crimes have been reported since May.

The Pacific Beach resident said her hate incident began when the banker at the Union Bank branch called Mrs. J over to her desk and began reviewing the mother’s account on a computer. After “an extended period of time, she rudely stated that she couldn’t deposit the checks, that something is wrong with the account.”

“I was surprised but respectful. She’s the banker and I’m in her house so I have to follow her rules, right?” said Mrs. J. “I explained the challenges of speaking with my 97-year-old mother because she was hard of hearing and spoke Korean.”  

This only seemed to anger the banker more, said Mrs. J, who added, “She said loudly that she didn’t care what I’ve been able to do before and with whom and she couldn’t understand why anyone would open an account if they couldn’t speak English.”  

The PB resident walked out of the bank, calling her sister, who then checked with a bank vice president and found there were no problems with the account. So the PB resident returned and once again the agitated banker intervened, this time involving a teller and a male banker.

“If that male banker wasn’t there, I would have been turned away again,” said Mrs. J. “The teller and male banker apologized, but she never did.”  

Mrs. J did complain to the corporate office at Union Bank, which promised an investigation, assigning her complaint a case number. But two months have passed and nothing has happened. And in the meantime, Union Bank has been integrated into the operations of a new owner, US Bank.  

When contacted about this incident, a spokesperson at US Bank headquarters in Minneapolis said Friday the branch manager is “aware of the problem” and will be “watching this individual.” The branch manager provided Mrs. J with his personal cell number.