As an increase in anti-Asian bigotry continues to sweep across the US, politicians and community leaders have called for action to combat a disturbing surge in physical attacks and harassment.
Top congressional Democrats at a news conference earlier this month condemned the increase and said much of the blame lies in former US president Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric about Chinese and COVID-19.
The Asian American community has reached a “crisis point,” said US Representative Judy Chu (趙美心), who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Community members are “terrified by the alarming surge in anti-Asian American bigotry,” Chu said. “These attacks are no accident. It’s clear January 6 was not the only violence Donald Trump incited.”
Chu’s words come amid a wave of violent incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the US. Although it is difficult to prove that these violent incidents are purely motivated by bigotry, community leaders, as well as victims and their families, think that race has played a major role.
Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai who lived in San Francisco, died several weeks ago after being shoved to the ground.
The victim’s family reportedly told KTVU that he was attacked because of his race and age.
“What else could have motivated him?” Ratanapakdee’s son-in-law said of the attacker.
Across the bay, a man shoved three people in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. The victims — a 91-year-old man, a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman — were injured, CNN reported.
In the Flushing neighborhood of New York City, a 52-year-old Chinese American was attacked outside a bakery on Tuesday last week. The woman asked a man in front of her about the line, and he then became “extremely angry, yelled and cursed at her, used his hand to touch her face and came face-to-face-with her,” prosecutors said in court papers.
The victim’s daughter said on Facebook that he shoved her “with such force that she hit her head on the concrete and passed out on the floor,” NBC New York reported.
The same day, two Asian seniors were assaulted on the subway in separate incidents, the network said.
The man accused of involvement in the bakery incident was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment. He was not charged with a hate crime, records showed.
Former US president Bill Clinton also spoke out against increasing reports of attacks on Asians.
“I’m deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. “We must speak out against discrimination of all kinds, reject the ignorant rhetoric driving this wave of violence, and reach out to support our neighbors.”
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting anti-Asian bigotry during the COVID-19 pandemic, said that it had received more than 2,808 “firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate” from March 19 to Dec. 31 last year.
Physical assaults comprised 8.7 percent of those incidents, while coughing or spitting totaled 6.4 percent. Verbal harassment constituted 70.9 percent of the incidents, while shunning or avoidance were 21.4 percent.
Figures from law enforcement agencies are similarly disturbing.
The New York Police Department’s records also show a troubling increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. Last year there were reports of 29 victims — with 24 listed as having “coronavirus motivation.”
In 2019, there were just three anti-Asian hate crimes recorded by the department.
From Jan. 1 to Wednesday last week, the most recent data provided, authorities reported that there were two victims of anti-Asian hate crimes. In the same period last year, there were no reported victims of anti-Asian crimes.
“No area really is immune. It’s urban, rural,” Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council executive director Manjusha Kulkarni said. “Even when the country was largely sheltering in place, people were experiencing incidents at grocery stores, at pharmacies, at big-box retailers.”
“Those were the only places we were able to go ... they had to worry that somebody might verbally attack them or physically assault them, or refuse them service as they were just trying to sort of eke out an existence,” Kulkarni said.
“It has our seniors and the women more concerned. It seems like they’re picking on seniors,” said Karlin Chan, a community leader in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “These people are opportunists. They’re not going to pick on a fit young man. It does have the community worried.”
Chan said that the community in Manhattan’s Chinatown was lucky to have experienced fewer incidents than Flushing, but that residents were rattled by several incidents in the winter last year, before the pandemic hit New York City.
“Right before lockdown, Chinatown was very quiet,” Chan said. “These opportunists, or some racists, would harass people. On the Lower East Side, streets were very quiet.”
In response, Chan formed a block watch that walked around the neighborhood several times a week, “just to assure neighbors and residents that there are people from the community, and outside the community, who are concerned.”
Chu and other lawmakers attending the news conference earlier this month, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urged Congress to pass legislation that would provide federal grants to state and city governments to improve reporting of bias crimes, and provide better support for victims.
US Representative Barbara Lee said that everyone must work to “put a stop to hate and violence.”
“These tragic attacks are happening in communities across the country,” Lee said. “These attacks are just simply unacceptable.”
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