Asians continue to suffer racist hate incidents during the pandemic

DISCRIMINATION DURING COVID ­— Data shows the breakdown of reports made to Stop AAPI Hate. data courtesy of www.StopAAPIHate.org/graphics by Tomo Hirai

About half a year since the coronavirus pandemic has turned life upside down for Americans, a disturbing trend for hate directed against Asians remains a concern. Launched in mid-March,

Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative by Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department, is tracking hate incidents in the United States.
Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, told the Nichi Bei Weekly Aug. 14 their tracker has recorded more than 2,500 incidents since March. Choi believes the number of reported incidents are an undercount. While the buzz in the media over their tracker has since died down, she is alarmed that people continue to report new incidents as the pandemic wears on.

“It’s really just a fraction and a reflection of what might be happening, but it certainly doesn’t capture the extent and the magnitude,” Choi said.

Although Choi could not assess the true magnitude of hate incidents that Asians have suffered, she said the Website has received reports from 45 states, as well as the District of Columbia. She said 40 percent of the incidents have come from California, a state with a high concentration of Asian Americans.

“I don’t want to suggest that this isn’t happening in other states where we have lower numbers,” Choi said. She instead said the larger concentration of Asians may have helped inform more people about the tracker and convinced them to come forward. She said reports from California were not constrained to its metropolitan centers either, indicating anti-Asian discrimination is “pretty widespread.”

In New York, a 39-year-old woman was doused in some kind of substance causing chemical burns in April and an 89-year-old Asian woman in Brooklyn was lit on fire by an assailant in July. Following the attack in July, Asian American local community members called for the incident to be investigated as a hate crime. The New York City police, in response, started an Asian hate crimes task force Aug. 18, according to NBC News.
Locally, in San Francisco, several men assaulted a San Francisco bus driver with a wooden bat and used racial slurs against him in late July after the Asian American driver tried to escort the men off the bus after they refused to wear a mask on board.

Miyoko Oshima, a Japanese American resident of San Francisco, told the Nichi Bei Weekly she reported an incident to Stop AAPI Hate in May after a white man with dreadlocks approached her on the street and uncovered his face to cough and spit at her in downtown San Francisco.

Oshima said she jumped back when the man tried to spit on her, because she had previously encountered a homeless man who spat at her and called her out for being Asian on the street before the pandemic.

“Because of that prior incident, when someone comes walking towards me, I’m on alert. And now, wherever I go, and walking the streets of San Francisco, I’m vigilant,” she said. “I’m sure for all of the others who are attacked in some ways, their level of alertness and vigilance is heightened too.”

Oshima said little can be done, but stressed the importance of reporting such incidents to Stop AAPI Hate.

“That gives these organizations ways to talk about these issues in terms of how this COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people, especially people of color communities.”

According to Choi, incidents reported to the tracking Website are similar to that of Oshima’s. They are “fleeting, cowardly interactions.” While there are more extreme cases — such as a man in Midland, Texas who stabbed an Asian family, including two children, because he thought they were spreading the coronavirus — Choi said around 70 percent of cases reported to the tracker are classified as “verbal harassment” rather than hate crimes. She said cases of physical assault make up about one 10th of the reports and an even smaller percentage fall within what the government considers “cases of potential civil rights violations.”

For those experiencing anti-Asian hate, Choi has different recommendations based on the incident. In extreme cases, Choi advised calling the police and said police should enforce hate crime statutes. She also noted, however, that there is a high threshold for what would be considered a hate crime.

“If somebody physically attacked you or even threatened your life, using racial slurs, sexist statements or made comments about your perceived religion, that would be considered a hate crime,” she said. “I think many people don’t recognize the fact or realize that speech is actually protected, so someone can verbally attack you, call you all kinds of things, say vile things to you, but it doesn’t necessarily meet the hate crime threshold.”
Elected leaders, meanwhile, have also attempted to address the rise in hate crimes. California cities and counties such as Torrance on July 21 and Santa Clara County on April 7 have issued resolutions denouncing xenophobia, but Choi said more needs to be done. She said although it is easy for local governments to denounce hate, she had hoped leaders would be more proactive and assign more resources to investigate racist incidents and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., called upon Attorney General William Barr in a letter cosigned by 150 members of congress to not only “condemn acts of anti-Asian bias stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic,” but also report on actions by the Department of Justice to combat this behavior.

Calling back to President George W. Bush administration’s early 2000s response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, Lieu’s letter noted that the U.S. had taken immediate steps to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans, similar to how the administration sought to prevent attacks on Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian American communities.

“While these prior responses were not perfect, they represented an important effort to acknowledge and address the specific discrimination,” Lieu’s letter stated.

While Lieu’s bipartisan request has gone to Barr, Choi said part of the anti-Asian sentiments from the pandemic is partly owed to some political leaders as well, including President Donald Trump’s administration, which characterized the coronavirus as the “China Virus.” Trump continues to refer to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” during press briefings despite months of repeated calls from the public asking him to stop.

“We know that there’s a direct correlation, because we looked at … what people said while they were being attacked,” Choi said.

She said that victims who reported their attackers mentioned Trump and invoked white nationalist statements, “suggesting that we don’t belong here, we’re not Americans.”

She added that even after the pandemic is brought under control with a vaccine, the anti-Asian hate will remain a lasting issue.

“The resentment, the blame, on Asian Americans, it’s not going to go away after we have a treatment, after we have a vaccine,” she said.

Choi noted the pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone, but the discrimination Asian Americans face is taking an additional mental health toll and stressed it should not be overlooked.

“We’re in a pandemic. Committee members have lost their jobs, have lost loved ones. We are also affected by this. And then, on top of that, while we’re trying to survive and keep our family safe, many of our community members are also essential workers,” Choi said. “But on top of that, to be blamed for this pandemic, is unconscionable.”

To report instances of micro-aggressions, bullying, harassment, hate speech or violence, visit www.StopAAPIhate.com to write a report in one of 11 languages. Additionally, Asian American Advancing Justice also runs www.standagainsthatred.org accepting reports on new incidents and publishing stories online. OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates’ Hate Incident Reporting Website at www.aapihatecrimes.org offers a “COVID-19 Toolkit,” as well as a form to report hate incidents. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Rep. Judy Chu, D—Calif., launched a toolkit to address anti-Asian hate crimes at https://bit.ly/3gv11eG.

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