In Brooklyn, New York, an Asian woman suffered an apparently race-based acid attack while taking out her trash on April 5, 2020. A few weeks earlier in Texas, a man targeted and stabbed a Burmese-American man and his two children, ages 2 and 6, at a Sam’s Club. He said he had attempted to kill the family because he believed they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” One of the children suffered a laceration wound from his ear to across his eye.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have been chased out of stores, coughed on, beaten up, sprayed with sanitizers, verbally abused, told to “go back to China,” bullied on social media, barred from restaurants and more, according to reports filed with Stop AAPI Hate, a hate crime reporting center. (http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/stop-aapi-hate/)
These are among the worst examples of thousands of anti-Asian incidents that have been reported since the Covid-19 crisis began. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the United States reported more than 1,500 incidents of racism and discrimination related to COVID-19 in the past month, officials said Wednesday.
Officials who are coordinating the Stop AAPI Hate Project during the Coronavirus pandemic say the results are likely just a small portion of the total incidents. Many more cases are likely unreported due to cultural aversions to, or negative experiences with, law enforcement and other government agencies. Closer to home, in the past month, Cleveland’s AsiaTown has reported several cases of anti-Asian racist incidents. Similar to the national statistics, many incidents may not have been reported.
Since the Coronavirus began spreading in the U.S., Asian Americans have once again become the targets of a rising tide of xenophobia. Negative attitudes are increasing and Americans are becoming more resentful of Asians and China as the pandemic spreads.
Cause and Effect of a Leader’s Rhetoric
Anti-Asian attacks spiked across the country after President Trump and top Republican officials began repeating the terms “China virus,” “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus.” Many believe that President Trump’s insistence on using the term “Chinese virus” has caused much of the hatred towards the Asian community.
He continued to stoke hostility with his racist comments by recently saying to an Asian CBS reporter “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, OK?” simply because she was Asian. Of course, this is typical of Trump because he has been widely criticized for attacking female reporters, women of color among them.
In addition, President Trump continues to fuel the fire by blaming China as the reason for the spread of the virus as a distraction to his inability and refusal to recognize COVID-19 early on. A study this week claimed that if Trump had declared a national emergency one week earlier, it could’ve saved 36,000 lives.
Civil rights groups have expressed concern about Trump’s comments about China and the virus, and the effect they may have on public behavior towards minority groups. In April, American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang wrote that attempts to blame China “run against the advice of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that such labels lead to dangerous scapegoating and widespread ignorance, just when accurate public health information is critically needed.” In spreading this smear, these officials have instigated racism and overt acts of harassment and violence against Asian Americans.
Lack of Federal Response
Trump has not directed a strong governmental response towards protecting Asians and people of Asian heritage. Notably, although the US is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Trump hasn’t nominated a representative to the treaty’s monitoring body. Still, federal government agencies can act on their own to address this upsurge in racism.
The US Commission on Civil Rights has recently raised concerns about the escalating racism and violence. Additionally, the Department of Education has issued guidance to educators, directing them to protect students at risk of anti-Asian harassment, after a 16-year-old Asian-American boy was attacked by his classmates and hospitalized. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has stated that during Covid-19, protecting civil rights and investigating hate crimes remains a high priority. But the FBI should also set up a task force to focus on the specific new problems associated with Covid-19 and better coordinate with local and state officials.
Photo: ABC News via Pexels/Cotton Bro
Activists Fear Anti-Asian Racism Likely to Worsen After Lockdown Lifts
Activists expect incidents of hate, discrimination and even life-threatening violence to escalate as shelter-in-place orders are lifted, and they’re already organizing against that possibility. A coalition of over 100 organizations across the country have come together to work with state and local agencies to establish policies that would protect Asian Americans from discrimination. A group of concerned activists in Cleveland are part of this coalition and hope to work with our local representatives and agencies.
Many Asian Americans from coast to coast are worried about the continued rise of anti-Asian sentiment, similar to what occurred in the 1980’s when Japan overtook the United States as the world’s largest automaker. Anyone who looked Japanese was a target of hate. Chinese American Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit for ‘looking Japanese’ which sparked protests across the country.
Let’s Rise Up and Come Together as One Community
Let’s all come together during these unprecedented and challenging times. If you witness racist attacks towards anyone, regardless of race, there are several ways a bystander can try to intervene and diffuse the situation.
Consider taking action in the moment itself, either by confronting the perpetrator or expressing that you disagree with what they are doing. If there are other witnesses, make it clear that there are others who also don’t agree with what was said or done. Of course, this assumes that you believe it is a safe situation to do so. If not, or there is a lack of confidence in acting on the situation, there are other actions that people can take.
You could attempt to distract the perpetrator in different ways, either by placing yourself between the perpetrator and the target, and just engage with the targeted individual(s). You can also record the incident on your smartphone to help report the incident afterwards.
If the situation looks unsafe, you can approach the victim after the incident to comfort them, calm them down and ensure they’re led to safety. This allows you to focus on the well-being of the victim instead of the perpetrator. Not doing anything can have negative after-effects on the victim.
Finally, it’s important to ensure that the incident is reported to the proper authorities, whether the police, security guard, store manager, or venue manager.
For AAPI racist attacks, report the incident to Stop AAPI Hate: http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/stop-aapi-hate/