A string of violent crimes against Asians and Asian Americans has prompted activists and experts to warn that racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic could lead to an increase in hate incidents.
Oakland, California police announced this week that they had arrested a suspect in connection with a brutal attack on a 91-year-old man in Chinatown who was caught on camera. In less than a week, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco, a Vietnamese woman was attacked and robbed of $ 1,000 in San Jose, and a Filipino man was attacked with a box cutter on the New York City subway.
It is unclear whether the crimes were racially motivated, but advocates calling for more against violence against Asian Americans say that racist crimes against the community are historically underreported for a variety of reasons.
Meanwhile, police authorities across the country are warning residents of rising crime around the New Year celebrations, including the risk of robbery during the multi-day celebrations that begin Friday. Cash is a common gift.
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Violence against Asian Americans spiked in March as COVID-19 spread across the country and some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, blamed China for the pandemic, said Russell Jeung, who has a tool used to track hate incidents Islander communities developed against the Asia-American Pacific called Stop AAPI Hate Tracker.
“When President Trump started and insisted on using the term ‘China virus’, we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence,” said Jeung, chairman of the Asian-American Studies department at San Francisco State University. “That kind of political rhetoric and this anti-Asian climate has continued to this day.”
Racist acts of violence lead to heightened anxiety and fear in a population that already has a higher rate of anxiety and depression-related COVID-19 than other racial groups, Jeung said.
Stop AAPI Hate, Jeung’s website which contains a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 2,808 anti-Asian discrimination cases in the US from March 19 to December 31, 2020. Another organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, had more than 3,000 hate incidents in its self-reporting system since late April 2020 – by far the highest number in the tool’s four-year history.
The FBI is collecting national data on hate crimes, but the data for 2020 and 2021 has not yet been released. According to the latest available data, two hundred and sixteen anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in 2019.
That number can only be a fraction of the real number, as less than half of hate crime victims have ever reported it to police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Jeung said the increase in hate incidents is a particular concern in urban areas. New York City had 24 anti-Asian hate crimes related to the coronavirus between January 1 and November 29, 2020, compared to just three anti-Asian hate crimes in the same period in 2019.
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“This increase was cultivated because of the anti-Asian rhetoric about the virus that was being made public, and individuals began targeting Asian New Yorkers, either verbally or physically,” Rodney Harrison, chief investigator, told reporters in August.
The surge in hate crimes prompted the NYPD to set up a task force on Asian hate crimes.
Activists such as Amanda Nguyễn, co-founder of Rise, an advocacy group for sexual assault survivors, raise awareness of the Oakland case and the other violent incidents involving Asian Americans. Nguyễn said she created an Instagram video about the attacks, which has since gone viral because she was upset not only with the violence but also with the lack of media attention to the cases.
“When I made this video, I was sick of living in fear and I wanted to scream,” she told USA TODAY. “It’s so absurd that I have to say, ‘Stop killing us.’ … We literally fear for our lives as we walk out our door, and your silence, your silence rings through our heads. “
In the Oakland attack, prosecutors are investigating whether there is enough evidence to support hate crime charges, Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement to the US TODAY.
Oakland attack suspect Yahya Muslim was charged with three attacks that caused serious injury and committed a crime against an elderly person, O’Malley said at a news conference Monday.
Police reportedly attacked a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman in Chinatown on the same day of the attack.
Meanwhile, actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu offered a reward of $ 25,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case, and donated that money to community organizations like Stop AAPI Hate.
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“The skyrocketing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans continues to grow despite our repeated requests for help,” they said on Twitter. “The crimes were ignored and even excused.”
On January 28, Vicha Ratanapakdee was attacked and later died in San Francisco. Eric Lawson, his son-in-law, told USA TODAYhe he believed the 84-year-old was targeted for being Asian. Lawson added that his wife, who is Thai, was verbally abused and told to “return to China” before the attack.
“Everyone is dancing around the subject and no one is bringing it up,” he said.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin brought charges of murder and elder abuse against Antoine Watson, but her office has “no evidence of what motivated this pointless attack,” spokeswoman Rachel Marshall told USA TODAY.
A 64-year-old Vietnamese woman was attacked in San Jose last Wednesday and robbed of $ 1,000 in cash that she had withdrawn for vacation. No arrests were made and there is no evidence that the robbery was racial, information officer Sgt. Christian Camarillo said.
On the same day in New York, 61-year-old Noel Quintana, allegedly of Filipino descent, was hit in the face with a box cutter on the subway. Spokeswoman Detective Sophia Mason told the US that the police are investigating TODAY but did not answer questions about whether the incident was possibly motivated by a race.
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While it is unclear whether the individual cases are racially motivated, they are certainly “related” and “terrible,” said Jeung.
“What makes it worse is that we are seeing that our older people and youth are also targeted,” he said. “It seems like humans are attacking vulnerable populations.”
John C. Yang, president and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said his organization has been tracking anti-Asian hate incidents and crimes for nearly 30 years and received hundreds more reports of hate incidents in 2020 than in previous years. He said polls from IPSOS and the Pew Research Center show that the real level of hatred Asian Americans experience is likely much greater and better data is needed.
“While these reports are clearly incomplete, only the tip of the iceberg shows that there is a dramatic increase in hate incidents,” he said, noting that it is too early to tell if that surge will continue in 2021.
Yang said there are several reasons why hate crime victims may not report it to the police.
Yang said that victims may not be informed about the resources available to them and that there may be language barriers to accessing these resources, especially for older Asian Americans. He said there may also be cultural barriers to reporting, including the shame of being perceived as a victim. Some victims may also be concerned about interaction with law enforcement because of their immigration status.
Yang added that not all hate incidents result in crime, but they “clearly cause some level of mental trauma.” He estimated that only about 10% of the incidents reported to his organization could be considered crimes.
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Jeung of Stop AAPI Hate said that in addition to crimes such as physical violence, Asian Americans have reported violations of their civil rights, including corporate denial of service or car ridesharing, verbal harassment through racial abuse, and the risk of vandalism and property damage.
He said his wife was deliberately coughed while jogging, noting the similarities to an incident in New Jersey where a man was charged with terrorist threat after coughing a supermarket employee and telling him he had the coronavirus.
“There is such a climate of hatred and anger that we need to bring the temperature back down and remind people to treat others with respect,” he said.
President Joe Biden signed a memorandum in late January denouncing xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific. Yang said the Biden government’s words made a difference, but the recent violence has caused the community to “huddle back together” during what is usually a solemn time.
He said more needs to be done to ensure victims have support systems and educate bystanders about safe interventions. He warned against relying too heavily on law enforcement.
Despite the terrible crimes, Jeung was excited to see the Oakland community organize efforts to reduce crime in the neighborhood.
“What really encourages me is that the Asian-American community is really standing up,” he said. “I want people to know that not only are we the victims of discrimination, but that we are and we will work to promote racial justice for all in the United States.”
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg