It was only a matter of time before racially-targeted language repeatedly used by government officials to describe COVID-19 would result in an unmistakable increase in hate crimes against Asian people. Now, Asian-Americans are reporting being assaulted, threatened, and verbally assaulted with racial slurs, all with targeted attacks and blame for the coronavirus outbreak.
Since the first positive patients of coronavirus were reported in New York, cases of racially-motivated violence toward Asian-Americans followed. Last week, a Korean woman standing on the sidewalk outside the midtown Manhattan language school she attends was punched in the face by another woman who shouted anti-Asian slurs before fleeing, reports the New York Police Department. The woman, who chose to remain anonymous when she spoke to a local ABC affiliate, said the person who attacked her specifically mentioned the coronavirus when she attacked her. She was reportedly taken to the hospital for a possibly dislocated jaw.
On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement denouncing the attack. “I am disgusted to hear that a woman of Asian descent was physically assaulted in Manhattan on Tuesday – an attack apparently motivated by the bigoted notion that an Asian person is more likely to carry or transmit the novel coronavirus,” the statements reads. “To be clear: there is zero evidence that people of Asian descent bear any additional responsibility for the transmission of the coronavirus.”
Later that same day, the NYPD said a man was attacked in East Harlem by an unidentified man who made anti-Asian remarks before kicking the victim. The suspect allegedly told the man to go back to his country before mentioning the coronavirus, reports CBS New York. It is believed that this same suspect attacked this man before on March 7 when he spat in his face and made anti-Asian comments related to the virus.
Following these attacks, law enforcement deployed their hate crimes task force and are investigating both as racially-motivated crimes.
Despite the gruesome and tragic nature of these assaults, it also comes after weeks of hearing government officials using racist remarks to describe coronavirus. President Trump has been repeatedly questioned by reporters during press conferences over his use of phrases such as “China virus” and even “Kung Flu” to describe the novel coronavirus. He has stood by these terms stating that, “Because it comes from China, it’s not racist at all. Not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. I want to be accurate.”
Other politicians have insinuated blame in their descriptions of the virus. Rep. Paul Gosar called it “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it first appeared. On Monday, Trump backpedaled, inadvertently criticizing his own rhetoric, in a news conference. “It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian-Americans in our country and I don’t like that at all,” Trump said. “So I just wanted to make that point, because they’re blaming China, and they are making statements to great American citizens that happened to be of Asian heritage, and I’m not gonna let that happen.”
It’s not just politicians. When the first cases in New York began to make the news, media outlets reporting on the virus have repeatedly used stock images of Asian people wearing masks taken in Chinatown. To combat this, the World Health Organization has publicly outlined the harm associating a specific population of people with an infectious disease can cause.
In response, New York has started a crisis hotline specifically for coronavirus-related hate crimes. The Attorney General’s Office is overseeing the hotline and is working to connect people calling in with resources, help with civil investigations, and supporting local law enforcement.
“No one should live in fear for their life because of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
To reach the crisis hotline for coronavirus-related hate crimes, please call (800) 771-7755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.