Though it does not often make the national or international news, there has been an increase in attacks on Asian-Americans in the last year that many are directly attributing to misinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories that Chinese people are responsible for the pandemic. Now, activists and celebrities are calling for greater attention to be given to the issue, as there's been a surge of crimes targeting older Asian-Americans.
Last week, an 84-year-old Thai man died days after being attacked on the street in what his family believes was a racially motivated crime. On Wednesday, a 64-year-old woman was attacked and robbed as she got into her car in the middle of the afternoon in San Jose. The same day, a Filipino-American man was attacked on the subway in New York City. Noel Quintana, the 61-year-old who was attacked on the train, says that a man came to him and kicked his backpack. When Quintana asked him to stop, the suspect slashed his face from cheek to cheek before fleeing as soon as the train stopped.
These reports are just from last week alone. And have suddenly caught the media's attention. But these occurrences are, unfortunately, not new: Since January 2020, reports of Asian and Pacific Islanders being threatened, harassed, and attacked have increased. A statement from the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), said the pandemic resulted in an “alarming escalation of xenophobia and bigotry.”
When the nation began targeted shutdowns in cities across the country, the FBI warned that hate crimes against Asian and Asian-American communities would grow, according to reports obtained by ABC News. And while numbers showing a more whole picture of the issue are difficult to come by, what is documented is a persistent increase in violence.
In an attempt to track incidents of hate, violence, harassment, and discrimination, the A3PCON, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University launched the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center on March 19, 2020. In the first 20 weeks of establishing a reporting channel, the organization received 2,583 reports nationwide. Updated statistics since the report's October release are not yet available.
This uptick comes at a tumultuous time where many people, including political leaders, relied on racism to shift the blame of COVID-19 spread to Chinese people. On numerous occasions, former President Donald Trump insisted on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or the “Kung-Flu.” Even as reporters challenged his use of those terms, Trump adamantly defended his right to use them. Others, such as Rep. Paul Gosar called it the “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it first appeared. In March, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy referred to it as “the Chinese coronavirus.” When called out on it, he doubled down saying the name was appropriate because it is “a China-born disease” that was “made worse by a Communist Party that rejected America’s help to contain it.”
These dangerous misnomers extend beyond government officials. Many media outlets were criticized in early reporting of the coronavirus for frequently choosing images of Chinatown districts across the US to accompany stories about the spread of the virus. On May 8, 2020, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged governments to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”
Extremist groups picked up on this language and began spreading xenophobic conspiracies suggesting that people from China were creating and spreading COVID-19 in order to profit from it or somehow weaken the US. Some co-opted these conspiracies as a vehicle to stoke nationalist sentiments by linking the pandemic to immigration, the Anti-Defamation League reports. Many of the incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate included verbal harassment specifically referencing COVID-19 and demanding they “Go back to China.”
In response to increasing incidences of harassment and violence against Asian people, activists and celebrities are speaking out in order to call attention to the issue which has gone largely underreported. Last week, actor Daniel Dae Kim posted on Instagram about the attack of a 91-year-old man in Oakland, CA. The post included CCTV footage of the incident as well as still images of the suspect. Kim and fellow actor Daniel Wu offered $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the suspect.
“We must do more to help the literally thousands of Americans who have suffered at the hands of this absolutely senseless violence,” Kim wrote. British actor Gemma Chan shared the footage on her own Instagram, saying, “This is difficult to watch but this is a plea for help. Hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans have skyrocketed. The community is in pain from these completely unprovoked attacks but the crimes are too often ignored and underreported.”
In an attempt at more widespread change, President Joe Biden directly addressed the issue in an executive action issued late last month in which he condemned the xenophobic language used in relation to the pandemic. The order calls upon the Justice Department to collect data on hate crimes and harassment directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. For Stop AAPI Hate, this is a significant first step that they hope is a signal of more to come to create lasting change.
“A meaningful response will prioritize policies of public education, community mediation, and restorative justice to end racial bias and profiling,” reads a statement issued by Stop AAPI Hate that included a list of six suggested actions to address violence and discrimination. “Furthermore, we call upon President Biden to reverse other xenophobic executive orders and policies put into place by the Trump administration.”