Incensed by racist and xenophobic rhetoric championed by Former President Donald Trump, there have been countless cases of hate crimes against Asian Americans over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic this past year. Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group dedicated to documenting anti-Asian discrimination throughout the pandemic, has reported more than 2,800 incidents of this nature across the US between March and December of last year. Asian Americans over 60 make up 7.3 per cent of those reports.
Worryingly, there has been a recent uptick in anti-Asian violence and hate in the past few weeks in cities across the US. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, there have been over 20 attacks in Oakland’s Chinatown in the past few weeks that targeted Asians.
Horrific stories are circulating of Asian American elders being targeted by violence, such as that of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee. Ratanapakdee was knocked to the ground and killed while walking around his neighbourhood in San Francisco. 61-year-old man Noel Quintana was slashed by a box cutter on the New York subway, and a 71-year-old grandmother was assaulted and robbed ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations, according to Human Rights Watch.
Many have decried this rise in violence and the racist political rhetoric that has contributed to this tragedy. Lawmakers held a press conference earlier this month condemning these attacks, with Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairperson Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif, saying they had reached a “crisis point that cannot be ignored.”
Chu and other lawmakers have called on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would improve resources for hate crime reporting and prevention. Since entering office, President Joe Biden has signed a memorandum condemning the past administration’s discrimination against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
What has been heartening to see is the community response to these violent crimes. Groups like Compassion in Oakland have emerged that organise volunteer walking groups to escort those in the Asian-American community who may feel unsafe or vulnerable going about their day. Jacob Azevedo, the group’s founder, said to CNN his intention in starting this practice was not to be “some kind of vigilante… I just wanted to offer people some kind of comfort.”
Groups have also held rallies across the U.S., raising awareness of these crimes against Asian-American elders and the most vulnerable in the community. Young-Jin Yang, a participant in one of the rallies in Los Angeles, told NBC News, “This is wrong, and we need to say something.”
Whether the current political administration will enact positive change to combat America’s problems with racist and xenophobic violence remains to be seen. Unfortunately, this is not a new issue in the U.S., but it deserves a nuanced and effective response. Part of that response should take advantage of the community support that already exists, focusing on creating social systems that can help protect the most vulnerable.
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