Attacks on Asian Americans highlight rise in hate incidents amid COVID-19

(USA Today) - The FBI collects national hate crime data, but data for 2020 and 2021 has not yet been released. Two hundred sixteen anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in 2019, according to the latest data available.

Attacks on Asian Americans highlight rise in hate incidents amid COVID-19

A series of violent crimes against Asians and Asian Americans has prompted activists and experts to warn that racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic may be fueling a rise in hate incidents.

Police in Oakland, California, announced this week that they arrested a suspect in connection with a brutal attack of a 91-year-old man in Chinatown that was caught on camera. In less than a week, a Thai man was attacked and killed in San Francisco, a Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose, and a Filipino man was attacked with a box cutter on the subway in New York City.

It's unclear whether the crimes were racially motivated, but advocates calling for more to be done to address violence against Asian Americans say racist crimes against the community are historically underreported for a variety of reasons.

Violence against Asian Americans sharply increased in March as COVID-19 began spreading across the country, and some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, blamed China for the pandemic, said Russell Jeung, who created a tool that tracks hate incidents against Asian American Pacific Islander communities called the Stop AAPI Hate tracker. 

"When President Trump began and insisted on using the term 'China virus,' we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence," said Jeung, chair of the Asian American studies department at San Francisco State University. "That sort of political rhetoric and that sort of anti-Asian climate has continued to this day."

Acts of racist violence lead to increased anxiety and fear in a population that already has higher rates of anxiety and depression related to COVID-19 than other racial groups, Jeung said. 

Stop AAPI Hate, Jeung's website, which includes a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the U.S. from its inception on March 19 to Dec. 31, 2020. Another organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, recorded more than 3,000 hate incidents in their self-reporting system since late April 2020 – by far the highest number in the tool's four-year history. 

Jeung said the increase in hate incidents is a particular concern in urban areas. In New York City, police data shows there were 24 anti-Asian hate crimes related to the coronavirus between Jan. 1 and Nov. 29, 2020, compared with just three anti-Asian hate crimes in the same period in 2019.

"This increase was cultivated due to the anti-Asian rhetoric about the virus that was publicized, and individuals began to attack Asian New Yorkers, either verbal attack or physical assault," Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison told reporters in August. 

The spike in hate crimes led the NYPD to create an Asian Hate Crimes Task Force.

Activists including Amanda Nguyễn, co-founder of Rise, a sexual assault survivor advocacy organization, are raising 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 angered not only by the violence but by the lack of media attention the cases received.

"When I made that video I was tired 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 are literally fearing for our lives as we walk out of our door, and your silence, your silence rings through our heads."

The suspect in the Oakland assault, Yahya Muslim, was charged with three counts of assault, inflicting great bodily injury and committing a crime against an elderly person, O'Malley announced at a news conference Monday.

Police said Muslim is believed to have attacked a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman the same day of the Chinatown attack.

"The skyrocketing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans continues to grow, despite our repeated pleas for help," they said on Twitter. "The crimes ignored and even excused." 

"What makes it worse is we see our elderly and youth also targeted," he said. "It seems like people are attacking vulnerable populations."

Jeung, of Stop AAPI Hate, said that in addition to crimes such as physical violence, Asian Americans have reported experiencing violations of their civil rights including being denied service by businesses or rideshares, being verbally harassed with racial slurs and facing vandalism and property damage.

He said his wife was deliberately coughed on while jogging, noting the similarities to a New Jersey incident where a man was charged with making a terroristic threat after coughing on a supermarket employee and saying he had the coronavirus.

"There is such a climate of hate and anger that we need to again lower the temperature 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 Pacific Islanders. Yang said the Biden administration's words have made a difference, but the recent violence has caused the community to "hunker down again" during a normally celebratory time.

He said more needs to be done to ensure victims have support systems and to educate bystanders about safe intervention. He warned against relying too heavily on law enforcement.

Despite the horrific crimes, Jeung was excited to see the Oakland community organizing efforts to reduce crime in the neighborhood.

"What I’m really heartened by is the Asian American community is really standing up," he said. "I want people to know we’re not simply victims of discrimination, but we’re advocating for racial justice for everyone in the United States and we’ll continue to do so."