By Anand Vasu
An 84-year-old man from Thailand died from his injuries on Jan. 30 in San Francisco, after being attacked on his morning walk two days prior. Soon after, on Jan. 31, a 91-year-old was injured after being violently shoved to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown area. On the afternoon of Feb. 3, a 64-year-old woman was targeted and robbed in San Jose, outside a Vietnamese market, just hours after a 61-year-old Filipino American man received 100 stitches after being slashed in the face on a train from Brooklyn to Harlem on the New York City subway. And on Feb. 16, a 52-year-old woman of Chinese origin needed 10 stitches after a man shoved her to the ground while she was waiting in line outside a store in Queens, also in New York.
There has been a documented rise in a spate of attacks on Asian Americans from coast to coast. While there is no evidence to prove a link between many of these attacks, or that they were motivated solely by anti-Asian bigotry, communities across America are sufficiently concerned.
“There’s something going on across the nation that really sadly reminds us of some of our past experiences as a community,” Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate (Asian American Pacific Islander), told CNN. Kulkarni believed the rise in crimes against Asians was a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate began recording accounts of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans on March 19, 2020, after seeing instances of xenophobia alongside the spread of the pandemic in America.
In that nine month period, which ended with the calendar year, a total of 2,800 first-hand accounts were collected from 47 states and Washington, D.C. A major chunk of these cases, about 70%, were verbal harassment, while shunning or avoidance constituted about 20%. In 9% of incidents, physical assault was involved, while 6% included people of Asian origin being deliberately coughed on or spat on.
Meanwhile, the New York Police Department saw an eight-fold increase in reported anti-Asian hate crimes compared to the same period in 2019, according a report from the American Bar Association, released on Feb. 17.
Data released by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization established in 1991 to support civil and human rights for Asian Americans, also supports these trends. Between 2017 and 2019 the organization reported fewer than 500 incidents of hate against Asian Americans, in sharp contrast to 3,000 incidents in 2020 alone.
John C. Yang, the organization’s executive director, told CNN he believed the rise of anti-Asian hate in the U.S. was linked partially to former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus” in the initial stages of the pandemic.
An Advancing Justice statement in November 2020, soon after the election, stated: “Since early this year, we have been working to raise awareness about increased racism and discrimination against Asian Americans who are being wrongly blamed for the coronavirus and COVID-19. This discrimination is taking many forms from hostility and suspicion that Asian Americans are carriers of the coronavirus; to verbal abuse, harassment, and even physical violence. Prominent elected officials have been using terms including “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” “Kung Flu,” and “China plague,” labels that lead to stigma and cause real harm to our community members who are targeted by hate and harassment.”
There was also the assertion that people, in general, responded to the insecurity and fear brought on by the pandemic by scapegoating a section of the population, leaving Asian Americans as soft targets.
High profile Asian Americans have sought to draw attention to the plight of their fellow countrymen and women. Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu shared the video of the 91-year-old man being assaulted, on Twitter, and offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could provide “information leading to the arrest and conviction.”
After Oakland police charged a 28-year-old man with the crime, Kim and Wu donated that money to organizations fighting hate crimes against Asian Americans.
With New York being a hotspot for incidents of this kind, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) released a report titled: A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions,” co-authored with Paul Weiss.
The report says: “Anti-Asian hate incidents increased dramatically in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and then surged after the election of Donald J. Trump. South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Middle Eastern communities all faced recurring cycles of harassment and violence. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, anti-Asian hate incidents now primarily directed at East Asians have skyrocketed according to both official and unofficial reports.”
The report, citing NYPD data, states that in the first quarter of 2020 the percentage of people arrested for hate crimes against Asian Americans was nearly 40%, up from 6% in 2019. In the third quarter, 19 hate crime arrests were made, 20% of which were for anti-Asian crimes, while the NYPD reported a decrease in hate crimes against other groups during the same period.