At least 2,100 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported in the United States since March. Asian-American activists say the racism is being fueled in part by political speeches against China in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council is a coalition of organizations that support the rights and needs of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. The organization is gathering reports called Stop AAPI Hate of incidents against Asian-Americans.
It says most of the incidents were cases of hate speech, like racial insults. But it said about 8 percent involved physical attacks, including spitting on victims and bans against Asians from businesses.
In one incident in March, an Asian man reported an attack by a group of teenagers on a train in San Francisco, California. He said he got on the train wearing a mask and the group hit him with their bags and said he had COVID-19.
In April, about an hour north of San Francisco, a Chinese-American family reported an attack on their home. A large rock was thrown at the house, breaking through a window. The house had a message of hope for good health and harmony written in Chinese on the front door at the time.
“These are first-hand accounts where individuals are describing harrowing and traumatizing experiences, including what is being said to them when they’re being attacked,” said Cynthia Choi. She is co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the coalition partners.
Asian-Americans have been targeted before during public health crises, such as the 2003 SARS health crisis. The latest wave of anti-Asian hate comes at a time of increased tensions over the pandemic.
Are political speeches to blame?
United States President Donald Trump first praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for how he dealt with the health crisis. But as the virus quickly spread across the U.S., Trump began to accuse China of delays in reporting news of the outbreak in Wuhan. He also said China had not reported on the severity of COVID-19 and its spread.
Trump also has repeatedly described the new coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and “kung-flu.” Asian Americans and others say the terms are derogatory and have led people to blame them for the disease.
The president denied that the terms were racist. In March, the president wrote on Twitter, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus....is NOT their fault.” White House officials added that the president used the term merely to note that the virus began in China.
But Asian American leaders disagreed.
“Those are terms meant to be humiliating,” said Gene Wu, a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Phil Ting, a state assemblyman in California, said those words have led to an increase in anti-Asian behavior and hate crimes. “You see leaders express words that really give license to other people to express those same sentiments and also to act on them,” Ting said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a criminal offense driven by bias against the victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.
In a recent Stop AAPI Hate report, the coalition examined possible links between political speeches and anti-Asian opinion. It found that reports of anti-Asian discrimination increased after Trump repeatedly used the term “Chinese virus.”
Legal experts say while most of the 2,100-plus incidents recorded by Stop AAPI Hate do not rise to the level of a hate crime as defined by law, but more than 100 do.
Increase of hate crimes against Asians
Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University. He says this sudden increase comes at a time when most American cities are reporting an overall decrease in hate crimes against members of other groups.
California, home to the nation’s largest Asian American population, has been especially hard hit. In Los Angeles, police recorded 10 anti-Asian hate crimes through April 30, compared to a total of four for all of 2019. That information came from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
New York City recorded two incidents through May 17, compared with three in 2019. In addition, there were 20 coronavirus-related hate crimes. They included an attack in April in which a man used acid to severely burn an Asian American woman.
One of the worst known attacks took place in March in Midland, Texas. A man stabbed an Asian American man and his two young children at a store in the city. The suspect reportedly told the police that he acted “because he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.”
California State University’s Brian Levin said, “In the cities where anti-Asian hate crimes increased, they increased significantly to the extent that there were almost as much anti-Asian hate crime as we had for all of last year or significantly more.”
The increase in hate crimes against Asians has not been limited to the U.S.
From Melbourne, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, Asian-American communities have reported increased discrimination, including physical attacks.
In Vancouver, known as the “most Asian city outside Asia,” there were 20 anti-Asian hate crimes from January 1 through April 29, up from 12 for all of last year. London, another major city with a large Asian population, had 267 anti-Asian attacks, compared with 375 for all of last year.
Writer Helen Zia, a leading Chinese American civil rights activist, described the situation as “a global pandemic of hate.”
I'm Caty Weaver.
And I'm Jonathan Evans.
Masood Farivar reported this story for VOA News. Hai Do adapted for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people around the world
spit - v. to force saliva from your mouth
harmony - n. a pleasing combination
harrowing - adj. very painful and upsetting
traumatize - v. to cause someone to suffer emotional trauma
derogatory - adj. showing a lack of respect for someone or something
humiliate - v. to make someone feel very ashamed
license - n. a freedom to act however you want to
sentiment - n. attitude or opinion
orientation - n. a person's feelings, interests, and beliefs