Updated: Mar 17, 2021
While the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval rages on in the US, another critical tragedy demands our attention: the explosion in racially charged assault, violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans. An 84-year-old man was shoved to the ground near his San Francisco home and died. A 91-year-old and two others were systematically assaulted and hospitalized in Oakland. A Navy veteran lay unconscious before dying at the hands of the police. From Trump’s campaigning on the issue of the “China virus” to everyday racist depictions of the spread of COVID-19 substantiated by stereotypes, anti-Asian sentiment has once again reached the point of violence.
Within the three-month span from March to June 2020, Asian Americans reported over 2,100 hate incidents or crimes related to COVID-19, according to a recent report conducted by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) and Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA). As a wealthy Western nation and global economic leader, other nations are watching us closely—and they’re learning from us.
COVID-19 and Anti-Asian Violence
Anti-Asian rhetoric endorsed by government officials in response to the outbreak has caused the appalling, systematic increase in violence against Asian Americans that we’re currently facing. According to official data from the New York Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes have exploded by 1,900 percent just last year.
As early as April 2020, hardly a month into lockdown, the National Republican Senatorial Committee distributed a memo to GOP candidates advising on strategically and “aggressively attacking China” on all related concerns. Donald Trump’s public scapegoating of the crisis onto the “Wuhan virus” or “Kung-flu” in campaign rallies was further substantiated with propaganda demonizing President Biden for prioritizing “China’s feelings” over American lives by refusing to issue a blanket travel ban. Frankly, a ban targeting an entire ethnicity would parallel the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the only explicitly race-based entry restriction in our country’s history.
Trump’s incendiary campaign video also promotes a headline reporting China’s “hoarding” of masks, representative of an all too violent misunderstanding that widespread mask use in many parts of Asia has long since been a popular preventative measure, not the badge of a sick person.
Republicans’ call to action for alienation (at best) toward a highly racialized “other” has led to a tremendous spike in Asian Americans’ experiences of hostility, harassment and even violence in public spaces. Public transit has been a particular hot-spot for racist verbal harassment.
Violence in 2021: Crimes Against Our Most Vulnerable
Anti-Asian hate crimes have not only followed us into the new year, but have spiked yet again in recent weeks. The case of domestic terrorism that was the capital insurrection on January 6 is a tragic symbol of the consequences reaped when government institutions fail to penalize, or at worst endorse, racist rhetoric as a legitimate response to political chaos. Trump’s legacy of vitriol grouped in with unbridled economic disaster, pandemic fatigue and the recent discovery of new COVID-19 variants leaves little left to the imagination in determining the causes for the continued violence against our Asian American communities.
Especially vulnerable populations like the elderly have borne the brunt of this misplaced violence. On January 31, suspect Yahya Muslim was caught on video shoving a 91-year-old man to the ground in Oakland, California’s Chinatown. Muslim was arrested the following week and faces two additio