Reports of Asian hate on the rise

High profile attacks against AAPI community spark national movement of rallies, vigils, calls for action

Protesters+Rally+to+Stop+Asian+Hate+at+McPherson+Square+in+D.C.+on+March+3.+Like+in+Austin%2C+the+D.C.+rally+joined+a+national+movement+of++rallies+against+anti-Asian+hate+crimes.+

Victoria Pickering. Accessed via Flickr. Reposted with permission under a creative commons license.

Protesters Rally to Stop Asian Hate at McPherson Square in D.C. on March 3. Like in Austin, the D.C. rally joined a national movement of rallies against anti-Asian hate crimes.

By Bella Russo, McCallum High School

Hundreds gathered on the lawn of Huston-Tillotson University on April 20 in a rally to Stop Asian Hate.

The rally served as a vigil for the lives lost to violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and as an event to empower the community in reporting, preventing and combating racism in any form. A grassroots event planned by local activists and the Austin chapter of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), the Austin rally joined a national movement of protests against the rising number of reported hate crimes inflicted against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Jenni Lee, a KVUE anchor, shared in her speech that she is scared for her elderly father, a frequent of Houston’s Chinatown, and her son here in Austin. While she felt empowered at the sight of the crowd, she also spoke on how personal the growing attacks felt to her life.

I don’t necessarily blame COVID, but I think that a lot of people use that excuse to launch attacks against the Asian community.”

— District 4 judge Dimple Malhorta

“For every one of these Stop Asian Hate rallies, there is another attack on an Asian life, and then the feelings of encouragement and inspiration I’ve been feeling are quickly replaced by anger and outrage,” Lee said. “When those murders happened in Atlanta that stole the lives of eight people … and then the images of the attacks against the elderly, the beating of that mother in front of her crying child–that shook me to my core. … I am scared for my son, scared for his future.”

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase of hate crimes reported against Asian Americans. Since March 19, 2020, 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian racism were reported to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate –a 200% increase from the previous year. By just the end of March, that number had jumped up to 6,603 cases. Women have been disproportionately affected, making up 65 percent of the reported incidents.

This report by Stop AAPI Hate categorizes verbal harassment and shunning as the most common forms of discrimination faced by Asian Americans. Third most common was physical assault: 12.6 percent of the reported incidents.

The Austin rally came a month after the mass shooting in Atlanta. The shooter targeted three area spas, and seven of the eight victims were women. Six of those women were Asian.

The list of reported assaults is extensive. In Los Angeles, a man was struck in the head with a brick by a woman who shouted “Go back to China!” Near Times Square, a 65-year-old Filino-American woman was kicked and stomped on in the middle of the day by a man making anti-Asian comments. In Midland, Texas, three family members, including a 2-year-old baby, were stabbed by a 19-year-old who said he believed that they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” In the report by Stop AAPI Hate, most incidents took place in California, followed by New York, Washington and Texas, and more than half happened in businesses or on public streets or sidewalks.

Since hate crimes are historically under-reported, this statistical increase in assaults is almost assuredly a gross misrepresentation.

The Austin Stop Asian Hate rally drew hundreds to Huston-Tillotson University, where speakers discussed direct action against hate crimes against the AAPI community. Photo by Elisha Scott.

The Atlanta shooter, a 21-year-old white gunman, was indicted on murder charges on May 12, with prosecutors stating plans to seek the death penalty and enhanced hate crimes charges. With a lot of these cases, however, there is a hesitancy to classify the crime specifically as a hate crime.

District 4 judge Dimple Malhorta, the first judge of Asian Indian descent elected in Travis County (she was elected in 2020 to a full term after being appointed in October 2019), expressed that this reluctance might be because prosecutors feel it is an extra challenge to prove that an aggressor’s intent was to target a certain group of people. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that there is no set definition of what categorizes a hate crime. She maintains that despite any hesitation, classifying these reports as hate crimes is crucial.

While these attacks against the AAPI community are horrific, they are a daily reality for our brothers and sisters in the Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA communities.”

— KVUE anchor Jenni Lee

“The importance is that if something is classified as a hate crime, there should be an enhanced punishment. There should be accountability,” Malhorta told The Shield in an exclusive interview. “I think there should be transparency, and calling something a hate crime when it is actually a hate crime provides the victims with some sense of acknowledgement of what they have gone through.”

Following the tragedy in Atlanta, President Joe Biden urged Congress to quickly pass hate crime legislation to help address and combat this rise in racism against the Asian American community.

The proposed COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was reintroduced by lawmakers on March 11. It would allow more support to law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting hate crimes related to the global pandemic, and dedicate an official at the Department of Justice to review all reported hate crimes at every level. The act would also work to eliminate racist and discriminatory language used to talk about the pandemic, as well as collect data and create campaigns to educate the public.

The bill passed in the Senate on April 22 and is currently under consideration by the House of Representatives. Malhorta hopes the bill will address some harmful rhetoric that she believes has empowered these racist attacks.

“[The bill is] fantastic, but I think it’s way overdue,” Malhorta said. “Just even the way that [former president Donald Trump] was referring to COVID-19, the way he would talk about it and frame it for the public … it seemed to me that he was definitely blaming people of Chinese descent and China in general and, in doing so, really condoning people’s hatred, bias and just irrational fears [toward] Asian people in general.”

According to a July 2020 report, the Stop Asian Hate group received 63 reports of anti-Asian American hate in Texas in the five-month period from March to July, including many reports of vandalism and verbal abuse. Mayor Steve Adler, who also spoke at the Austin rally, formally recognized the increase of racism towards the AAPI community and committed to do his work as an ally.

“With the rise of COVID and harmful rhetoric, the city council and I … passed back in April of 2020, a resolution condemning all hateful speech and violent action and misinformation directed towards the AAPI community,” Adler said.

With race-motivated violence and crime, it’s so easy to feel completely disenfranchised. Having a space where we can all be together was such an empowering experience.”

— Judge Malhorta

While many attacks mention COVID-19 and involve racist stereotypes, Malhorta believes that the pandemic itself isn’t a cause so much as an excuse.

“I don’t necessarily blame COVID, but I think that a lot of people use that excuse to launch attacks against the Asian community,” Malhorta said. “Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have seen an uprise in people who hold those beliefs feeling very empowered and feeling that they can express their beliefs in violent and nonviolent ways.”

Lee, like many speakers at the rally, shared her own personal experiences with nonviolent racism, describing an incident this winter where an Instagram user called her “scum” and told her to “go back where she came from.”

Lee said she had experienced much worse racism, and initially swallowed the abuse. At the rally, she vowed to never to do so again. “I don’t tell you this to garner any sympathy,” Lee said. “I tell you this because I’m not remaining silent any longer, and I ask you to stand with me and to not remain silent any longer as well.”

Malhorta said the most important thing she took from the rally was a sense of empowerment through unity.

“For me, it was really a pivotal moment for our community to come together and acknowledge the fact that we all have had experiences at some point in our lives where we felt devalued or invisible or not included,” Malhorta said. “With race-motivated violence and crime, it’s so easy to feel completely disenfranchised. Having a space where we can all be together was such an empowering experience.”

In extending that unity, a common message at the rally was intersectionality.

“I also want to recognize, that while these attacks against the AAPI community are horrific, they are a daily reality for our brothers and sisters in the Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA communities,” Lee said. “We must see and stand with them and take action with them. We can’t be silent with them as well.”

These major attacks have been happening all the way since the Chinese Exclusion Act [of 1882] and [have been] enabled with something as small as a microaggression.”

— senior Isabela Tellez

Senior Isabela Tellez, a member of the McCallum Students of Color Alliance who attended the rally, spoke on how necessary acknowledging prejudice against AAPI is.

“I think one thing to take away is that these major attacks have been happening all the way since the Chinese Exclusion Act [of 1882], and enabled with something as small as a microaggression,” Tellez said. “This could be in the form of an offensive joke, or even a mentioning a stereotype that has been imprinted onto Asian Americans. One thing that I remember one speaker mentioning is that some may argue that these rallies aren’t fixing anything, but still making an effort to come out is better than doing nothing.”

Lee ended her powerful speech with a similar message: while there are many avenues of direct action in supporting the AAPI community, the first thing to do is raise your voice.

“As we gather today, if you’re scared, that’s OK. I am too. I stand with you,” Lee said. “Someone recently asked, ‘is any of this going to change anything?’ Honestly, I don’t know. But nothing will change if we remain silent, that I do know.”

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on May 15, 2021.