There isn’t evidence to prove that these incidents were only motivated by anti-Asian bigotry.
But authorities and advocates for the Asian community say that hate and violence against Asians has been brewing for several months — and needs to be addressed.
“There’s something going on across the nation that really sadly reminds us of some of our past experiences as a community,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
“It’s really the newest version of anti-Asian hate and racism,” she said.
Reports of hate have risen with the pandemic
Rights groups don’t know what’s fueling the latest spike in violent incidents against Asian Americans. But they have seen a pattern of targeted hate since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The problem has been especially evident in areas with large Asian American populations in California and New York, Kulkarni said.
“Once [the coronavirus] came to New York City, which was the epicenter of the national crisis and the first one to go through all of this, we were the canary in the coal mine of the future pain and suffering that our entire nation would soon and later come to experience,” New York Rep. Grace Meng said at a Thursday news conference focused on the findings.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice has observed a similar phenomenon.
From 2017 to 2019, the organization received less than 500 reported instances of hate against Asian Americans. But from February to December last year, they said they estimate there have been 3,000 incidents of hate cataloged by their group and others.
“We know it’s only the tip of the iceberg, based on surveys we’ve seen,” he said.
Experts point to xenophobic rhetoric and pandemic fears
“The former President obviously used a lot of racial epithets that blamed the Asian community for the virus,” he said. “That has conditioned people to think of Asian Americans as foreigners and engage in this xenophobic behavior. And that is hard to undo, notwithstanding the current administration.”
Experts also blame the insecurity and fear brought on by the pandemic. People may respond to threats of disease or other crises by scapegoating another group perceived as falling outside the cultural norms — in this case Asian Americans, the authors of the Asian American Bar Association report wrote.
“This provides some people with a sense of security and belonging, thereby serving as a defense mechanism against the fear of one’s own mortality,” the report’s authors said. “Not surprisingly, discrimination often rises in response to perceived threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Asian Americans are seen as easy targets for crime, perhaps because of language and cultural barriers that might prevent them from reporting incidents, according to Yang. And the elderly are particularly vulnerable, with concerns that they could be targeted for robberies as they are out shopping for the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year, which began on Friday, is supposed to be a time of celebration, when families come together to share a large meal and exchange gifts. But the recent attacks have put another damper on the holiday that had already been disrupted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions right now,” Yang said.
Communities are calling for action
Groups like Stop AAPI Hate and Asian Americans Advancing Justice say they welcome the response that leaders have taken to address the problem of hate against Asian Americans.
President Joe Biden signed an executive memorandum last month acknowledging that “inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons, families, communities, and businesses at risk.” He also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to consider issuing Covid-19 guidance to address issues to language access and sensitivity toward the AAPI community.
But community leaders say that more needs to be done.
Both Kulkarni and Yang are calling on community solutions to help address the problem. Yang called for bystander intervention training and local efforts such as neighborhood walk services and shopping services for the elderly. Kulkarni has called for more support and resources for Asian Americans to help them address incidents of assault and harassment.
“It is up to all of us — businesses, the government, and community partners — to come together and immediately support victims and families affected by these incidents, and work together to create long-lasting solutions that empower our communities with resources, support and education.”