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A Disturbing Rise in Discrimination and Harassment in the Asian American Community

By John Winer

March 10, 2021

A series of violent attacks against Asian Americans has surged in the United States following the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking fear and outrage around the world, with civil rights groups and advocates demanding action. In 2020, a hate-incident-reporting website received thousands of self-reports of discrimination and harassment nationwide, from verbal harassment to physical assault. CNN reports that despite being the fastest-growing racial and ethnic group in the country, the racism, discrimination, and harassment that is experienced by the Asian American community is often overlooked.

The increasing harassment and violence targeting Asian Americans have been described as a silent symptom of the coronavirus pandemic. Between March 19 and December 31, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate, a center that tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, and discrimination against Asian Americans in the U.S., received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans across the U.S. Of those reports, 1,226 incidents took place in California alone, with most of them occurring in the Bay Area. Types of discrimination include verbal harassment, physical assault, and denial of access to services and public spaces. An October 2020 Pew study found unfavorable views of China had reached highs across the world, including in the United States. A United Nations report associated the rise in negative views against Asian Americans to former President Donald Trump’s use of racist language to describe the pandemic’s origins in China.

A recent ABC News report revealed that in the last few months, there have been nearly two dozen violent and unprovoked attacks against Asian Americans in the Bay Area, leaving communities on edge. The majority of incidents in the Bay Area took place in San Francisco, with the second and third most incidents occurring in San Jose and Oakland. The series of high-profile incidents captured on video helped bring awareness to the hateful attacks on Asian Americans. Police in Oakland recently announced that they had arrested a suspect in connection with a brutal attack of a 91-year-old man in Chinatown that was caught on camera. Other incidents include a Thai man who was attacked and killed in San Francisco, a Vietnamese woman who was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in San Jose, and an 84-year-old man who died following an attack in San Francisco’s Anza Vista neighborhood. It’s unclear whether the crimes were racially motivated, but advocates are calling for more to be done to address violence against Asian Americans.

But the Bay Area is not the only place that has seen a rise in violence. The L.A. Times reported that hate crimes against Asian Americans and other members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities rose sharply in Los Angeles in 2020, causing concern among police and local advocacy organizations. Data also revealed that the increase in anti-Asian hate crime was the highest in New York City, which is the largest city with a high Asian population, where police recently investigated a record 28 incidents involving Asian American victims.

Many in the spotlight are using their platform to bring attention to the racism and xenophobic violence against Asian Americans during the current pandemic, including N.B.A. star Jeremey Lin, who is Taiwanese-American. CBS San Francisco recently spoke to Lin on the recent attacks on Asian Americans, where he opened up about his own experiences with racism on the court. In a Facebook post, he focuses on the recent attacks on Asian Americans and describes a time where he was called “coronavirus” during a game. In his post, Lin wrote, “Being a 9-year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court. We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble. I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here.” The New York Times reported that an N.B.A. G league spokesman had confirmed that an investigation had been opened following the reports.

In response to the alarming escalation in violence resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS News reports that communities in Los Angeles and Orange County are coming together to bring awareness. Dozens have signed up to volunteer to help feed and provide protective equipment for the elderly in Orange County’s Asian community. Several Los Angeles City Council members introduced two motions in an attempt to address the rise in hate crimes and harassment against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. One motion calls for L.A.P.D. to report on data of the increased crimes against Asian Americans and the department’s response to the trend, while the second motion directs the chief legislative analyst to report on recommendations to strengthen the city’s oversight, mitigation, and response to street harassment. It also requests the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority to report on past and upcoming efforts to curtail harassment on public transportation.

Last month, President Joe Biden acknowledged and condemned discriminatory attitudes and hate crimes toward people of Asian descent. He also signed an executive action directing federal agencies to combat xenophobia against the Asian American Pacific Islander community. The executive action was welcomed as an “important first step” by civil rights advocacy groups that had voiced concerns over former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the virus and its impact on the AAPI community. Other groups emphasized that more information was needed at the federal level to examine the pandemic’s effects. “It is not enough to simply condemn racism, xenophobia, and violence. We must call attention to these injustices and protect one another during these times.”

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