WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KION) In Santa Cruz County, people are seeing first hand why legislation to protect against racial discrimination toward the Asian community is important.
Chief David Honda is set to retire after 30 years in policing, five years spent as head of the Watsonville Police Department. He says his experiences as an Asian American police officer have given him a perspective unlike many in law enforcement have had.
Honda became the first Asian American police chief in the city.
"Coming to Watsonville… Watsonville is such a diverse and really close-knit community. So it was really a blessing to be able to work with the different community groups to further the goals of the community," he said.
Born and raised in San Jose, Honda joined the police force there in 1990. He rose up the ranks, learning every aspect of law enforcement over three decades. Back then, there weren't a lot of police that looked like him.
"Not a lot of Asians in law enforcement at the time, even now, we're still underrepresented throughout the nation," said Honda.
While Asian Americans and immigrants have blended into mainstream society, there were flash points in history where violence and injustices against the AAPI community prevailed.
It is popping up again during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Santa Cruz County, one Asian American woman posted photos on Instagram earlier this week. She said in the post someone left a cup filled with urine on her windshield while her car was parked across the Billabong in Pleasure Point.
On it were the words "F--- OFF CHINESE," "KILL CHINA" and more. She said she reported the incident to authorities.
"It upsets me, especially being an Asian American. And even as a chief of police, that just upsets me that anyone is being targeted because of their race," said Honda.
The chief says growing up, he also faced teasing and jokes for being Asian. But as a police officer, those experiences ultimately gave him a perspective he believes is much needed in law enforcement today, here and around the country.
"When you do have a different background growing up, I think it tends to give a little more empathy for other people, people of color or people of other backgrounds, especially when you're trying to apply the law and enforce law. I think it's very important to have that perspective," said Honda.
Honda says he feels the timing is right to retire from policing and he feels like he is leaving the department in better shape, but is feeling mixed emotions about leaving law enforcement.
His last day is on July 2.