A new study based on police department statistics across major U.S. cities found a nearly 150% surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, while overall hate crimes fell by 7%. The numbers reflect a growing trend of discrimination against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report, released this week by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, examined hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities, found the first spikes rose alongside COVID-19 cases in March and April.
New York City saw the highest jump, rising from 3 to 28. Boston and Los Angeles followed, with increases from 6 to 14, and 7 to 15, respectively.
The report is limited to crimes reported to local police departments. Meanwhile, “hate incidents,” defined by the Department of Justice as acts of prejudice that aren’t crimes, are also on the rise.
In Los Angeles, Hong Lee was approached by a man who asked to eat lunch with her when she was standing in line at a restaurant. When she declined, telling him that she’s married, the man told her “go back to f—-g Asia.”
“He was using a lot of derogatory terms, and I was asking for help from the employees and patrons around me. Unfortunately, they didn’t know what to do,” Lee told CBS News.
More than 2,800 of these hate incidents targeting Asian Americans have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate. Women are attacked almost 2.5 times more than men, a recent study from the group found.
“It’s very disturbing to me, I’m sad to say it’s not surprising, but it’s very disturbing,” said Anne A. Cheng, a comparative race scholar and professor at Princeton University. “It’s part of a very long systemic cultural discrimination against Asians in this country.”
Cheng said the coronavirus has given an outlet to already existing anti-Asian American sentiment. “I think that the coronavirus and the way it has been racialized by our previous administration has aggravated and given an alibi to a racism that is always not quite gone but now surging forth.”
Cheng said the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is perceived as a “privileged minority” which ignores how “ethnically, nationally and economically diverse” the community is.
“The false model minority myth offers an excuse for not paying attention to Asian Americans,” she said. “It’s one of the great ironies of American racial justice, that you only get attention when you are really being abused.”
Professor Brian Levin, who co-authored the hate crime study, said the numbers identify a trend but reflect “vast underreporting” of these crimes. As states lift COVID-19 restrictions, he anticipates a rise in hate crimes against other groups but predicts attacks against Asian Americans will decline, before plateauing at a level higher than before the pandemic.
In January, President Biden announced an executive memo that condemned racism against Asian Americans. The memo asks agencies to make sure official documents “do not exhibit or contribute to racism” and that the Department of Justice expand the “collection of data” around hate incidents.
Representative Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat, said there should be “tangible steps” taken at “every level of government” to curb the wave of violence. In a statement, Kim said the Biden administration should “re-establish the White House Initiative on AAPI to create a designated portal for sustained engagement and relationship building” with the Asian community across the country.
Manjusha Kulkarni, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, says there is infrastructure within law enforcement and the Department of Justice to handle hate crimes but “this moment calls for a similar infrastructure on the civil rights side.”
Kulkarni believes more should be done to enhance public education and community support programs for victims in order to combat hate incidents.
There are some programs, like L.A. vs. Hate, that provide a place to report hate incidents without affiliation with law enforcement and offer to connect victims to resources.
Lee, who now works as an ambassador for LA vs. Hate, is raising awareness for programs available to victims. “For me, I really needed counseling because I had really severe PTSD afterward,” she said.
As kids are beginning to go back to school across the country, there is a concern over the potential impact among Asian American schoolchildren.
“Looking forward, we need to also think about what the impact is going to be on schoolchildren. 10% of the incidents reported to us involved youth. I know parents are very much concerned about what that looks like for their children,” Kulkarni said.
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