Asian Americans Facing New Wave of Attacks across the U.S.
Over the past few weeks, Asian Americans have endured another alarming surge of attacks across multiple cities that compounds the high level of prejudice they’ve already faced following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of the victims have been elderly individuals. Recent high profile cases include the death of a 84 year old Thai American from his injuries two days after an assailant charged and pushed him to the ground in San Francisco on January 31t. On February 3, a woman was robbed of $1000 outside a Vietnamese restaurant in San Diego, while footage showed a 91-year-old Asian man in Oakland, CA being forcefully shoved to the ground. The next day, a 61-year old Filipino man was slashed across the face with a box cutter on a New York City subway.
At the moment, the assaults do not appear connected. However, the incidents have prompted responses on both local and national levels.
In Oakland, Alameda County District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley announced that she’s introducing a special response team to focus on attacks on Asian Americans.
“The rapid increase in criminal acts targeted against members of the Asian community, particularly Chinese Americans, who live and work in Alameda County is intolerable," O’Malley said at a press conference in Oakland’s Chinatown. "It's not unique to Chinatown or to the Asian community the increase in crime we've seen across the city and across the county, but we have seen in the last several weeks and months a very specific increase in crimes committed against Asians.”
Within a week of his inauguration, President Joe Biden also signed an executive memorandum that condemns and pledges to combat the trend of anti-Asian prejudice.
“The Federal Government has a responsibility to prevent racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against everyone in America, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” the memorandum reads. “My Administration condemns and denounces acts of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI communities.”
The memorandum also promises that “executive departments and agencies will take all appropriate steps to ensure that official actions, documents, and statements, including those that pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic, do not exhibit or contribute to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Experts link the significant increase in assaults on Asian Americans over the past year to xenophobia that’s resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the rhetoric from former President Donald Trump.
In an interview with U.S.A Today, Russel Jeung, chair of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, said President Trump’s language in part helped to fuel antagonizing views towards Asian Americans.
“When President Trump began and insisted on using the term 'China virus,' we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence," said Jeung. "That sort of political rhetoric and that sort of anti-Asian climate has continued to this day”
The economic rivalry between the U.S and China has also contributed to the xenophobia, according to a report from the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
“Anti-Asian racism and xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic is also fueled by rising economic and political tensions between the U.S. and China,” the report reads. “As the world’s second largest economy, China is increasingly portrayed in recent years as a threat to American global economic and military dominance and as the biggest competitor for U.S. jobs and technologies.”
While the number of these incidents have spiked over the past few weeks, the past year as a whole saw Asian Americans targeted at a far higher rate than previous years. Jenug, who has tracked hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for over a year, said that they started to occur more regularly around March of 2020, just as the amount of reported cases in the U.S began to surge.
According to the ASBA, 24 COVID-19 related hate crimes were reported against Asian Americans in New York alone between January and November 2020, eight-times the number of total attacks on Asian Americans the year prior.
Additionally, the proportion at which they have been targeted in New York jumped from just over 6% to 39% in the first quarters of 2019 and 2020.
A press release from the rights group Stop AAIP Hate reports that verbal harassment constituted 71% of cases between March and December of 2020 across 47 states and Washington, D.C. Shunning amounted to 21% of incidents, while physical assaults and intentionally coughing or sneezing on someone comprised 9% and 6% of cases respectively.