by Leah Varghese and Divya Singh
Anti-Asian hate crimes have been prevalent in the United States ever since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a United States federal law passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States, was established. The most recent outbreak of Anti-Asian hate crimes is due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, epidemiologists claim that the virus possibly came from an animal sold at a market that was initially identified in Wuhan China, which caused the novel coronavirus outbreak. Former United States President Donald J. Trump condemned xenophobic attacks against Asian Americans, however, has continuously shown to revoke his words by proclaiming the COVID-19 virus as the “Chinese-Virus”—a phrase that has garnered much attention to the point where it is now identified as a racial slur. March 16th, 2020 marked the first time in which President Trump used the Chinese slur stating in a tweet “The United States will powerfully support those industries, like airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before.” Because of this insensitive comment, a peer-reviewed study by the University of California at San Francisco found that the March 16th, 2020 tweet was directly responsible for approximately 700,000 hashtags corresponding to a rise in anti-Asian hate on Twitter. Furthermore, Trump amplified the use of this derogatory term by utilizing it numerous times during press conferences, interviews, social media, and more. However, on March 23, 2020, President Trump condemned hate crimes against Asians, contradicting his previous claims, stating, “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 in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!” However, the damage was already done, and due to the use of this Anti-Asian slur, Americans have taken this as a chance to take out their aggression and berate Asian American citizens, establishing a trend that has taken a deadly turn.
A non-profit social organization, Stop AAPI Hate tracks crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. They reported that since the very beginning of the pandemic, they received reports of over 2,800 hate crimes across the United States. Furthermore, a recent report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino revealed that hate crimes in 16 cities have risen by 150 percent in 2020; these crimes range from violent attacks, verbal abuse, and vandalization/negligence of Asian-owned businesses. Two states, California and New York have shown to be prominent ‘hotspots’ for such xenophobic acts of aggression.
The California Department of Justice revealed how the state averages around 31 hate crimes a year between 2015-2019. Such crimes have Asian Americans fearing for their safety. Some examples of anti-Asian hate crimes triggering attention nationwide include the graphic video depicting a 91-year old Asian man being plunged to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown, as well as a 75-year old woman who was physically assaulted yet fought back with the use of a wooden paddle. Another example in California is the surveillance footage catching the murder of an 84-year old man who was going on his daily walk and was violently pushed to the ground leading to a concussion and was pronounced dead two days later.
In response, officials are trying to take action to prevent such heinous acts against humanity. The California District Attorneys Association is attempting to make it simpler for prosecutors to bring cases to trial with stiff penalties. Democratic Assembly member David Chiu is reintroducing the Hate Crimes Hotline Bill—a bill that was designed in order to make it easier for law enforcement to investigate hate crimes against Asian Americans after the surge of violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chiu is also the co-author of a bill that propelled law enforcement agencies to be proactive and better regulate these hate crimes. Californian Governor Gavin Newsom signed the AB85 Pandemic Budget bill which included taking $1.4 million to counter these xenophobic attacks by encouring Asian Americans to report and track such attacks.
In 2020, New York City reported approximately 29 racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent, all of which were attributed to the “coronavirus motivation” and normalization of the Asian slur—”Chinese virus.” According to the New York Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force, between January 1st and March 14th of 2021, there have been 10 suspected Anti-Asian hate crimes committed in NYC, and authorities have been investigating at least four of the attacks, due to its severity as it has left people in critical conditions. In late March of 2021, the NYPD recorded 26 anti-Asian hate crimes this year, which included 12 assaults. On March 29th, 2021 a 65-year-old Asian-American woman was physically and verbally assaulted by an unidentified man in Midtown Manhattan while she was on her way to church. Surveillance videos from outside of an apartment building show a graphic video of a man approaching the woman, kicking her aggressively to the sidewalk, stomping on her head and upper body three times before finally walking away. On social media, critics are also calling out the bystanders who did nothing to stop the violence. The NYPD is also investigating other heinous acts against Asians, including an attack in which a person repeatedly punched and choked an Asian man on a train, and a woman who got hit in the face with a metal pipe. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has condemned Anti-Asian hate crimes stating “This is something where we all have to be part of the solution. We can’t just stand back and watch a heinous act happening.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also condemned the hate, stating, “Violence against our Asians is, unfortunately, becoming an epidemic in our state and across the nation, and it must stop now.”
One of the many tragedies derived from the anti-Asian hate was the March 16th, 2021 Atlanta spa shooting, caused by 21-year old Robert Aaron Long. There were eight people in total who were injured/killed during the shooting, six who were of Asian descent. Long defends himself by justifying his actions by claiming he was eliminating a “sexual temptation.” Long told the police that he had a “sexual addiction” and he perceived the spas as something “that he shouldn’t be doing.” Despite such circumstances, investigators are having a difficult time claiming this as a hate crime. Representative Marilyn Strickland of Washington claims, “Racially motivated violence should be called out for exactly what it is and we must stop making excuses and rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction.” The Atlanta spa shooting spree triggered protestors to gather in front of the Georgia State Capitol to demand justice for the victims of this shooting and protest the constant aggression towards Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Due to the continuous violence and xenophobia perpetrated against Asians, on March 30th, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his plans to respond to hate, xenophobia, and bias. President Biden condemned Anti-Asian violence, stating, “That’s been true throughout our history, but that has to change — because our silence is complicated. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.” Biden plans to advance safety, inclusion, and belonging for all Asians, and plans to build on to his Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, the official policy of the Administration to condemn the violence. In this memorandum, he, the Vice President, and AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) leaders denounce anti-Asian violence and have continuously urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, an act that addresses the surge in violence. His new plans, include methods to allocate funding for AAPI survivors of domestic and sexual assault, establishing a COVID-19 equity task force committee that will address ending xenophobia, establishing a Department of Justice cross-agency to address violence, that will primarily focus on removing language access barriers to hate crimes information and community resources and outreach, launching a new virtual bookshelf that will explore and celebrate Asian-American’s contributions to the United States, and funding critical research to prevent and address the violence and xenophobia. As of May 2021, Biden and his Administration signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which aims to improve hate crime and expedite case reporting in many states.
To prevent further Anti-Asian hate crimes, society needs to focus on implementing laws and regulations that stop people from discriminating against other races and ethnicities. But, more importantly, we must come together as a nation in order to teach kids at a young age to understand the complexities of systematic racism and why it is important for each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice, rather than being a bystander.