COVID, Trump: What’s Fuelling Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans?

We break down the factors behind the rise of crimes against Asians in the US.

Updated
World
3 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad

On 29 March, just minutes away from Times Square, 65-year-old Vilma Kari was brutally attacked on her way to church. Kari, who emigrated from the Philippines to the US decades ago, was repeatedly kicked and stomped on by her attacker, resulting in serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis.

The attack was among the latest in an increasing spate of anti-Asian hate crimes since the beginning of the pandemic. A week earlier, eight people were killed in a deadly shooting at the Atlanta spas, six of whom were Asian American.

Uptick in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

According to a recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at San Bernardino's California State University, crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) surged by nearly 150% even though overall hate crimes in the United States had fallen slightly in 2020.

Another recent report by the Stop AAPI Hate foundation suggested 3,975 attacks against Asian Americans had been reported in one year during the pandemic. The report also points out that more than 68% of the abuse was verbal harassment or name-calling, while 11.1% was physical.

These attacks are getting increasingly common in cities as cosmopolitan as New York and Los Angeles, besides a host of well-known American cities – Boston, Seattle, San Jose and Dallas. Between March and May 2020, over 800 COVID-related hate incidents were reported from 34 counties in California alone, according to the Asian Pacific Policy Planning Council.

In New York City, incidents of anti-Asian hate crime increased from three in 2019 to 28 in 2020, with the New York Police Department investigation 35 crimes this year, according to The New York Times.

Trump Era And the Pandemic

A vast majority of attacks were linked to the beginning of the pandemic, with Asian Americans often being subjected to racial slurs, like "Chink" and "Chinaman". The rise in anti-Asian sentiments can be attributed to the stigma over the Chinese origin of the coronavirus and the xenophobic rhetoric propelled by former US president Donald Trump.

Using terms like "Kung Flu" and "the Chinese virus" to denote COVID-19, Trump has time and again defended his stance, even openly claiming this was "not racist" at a press briefing at the White House in early 2020.

“There’s a clear correlation between President Trump’s incendiary comments, his insistence on using the term ‘Chinese virus’ and the subsequent hate speech spread on social media and the hate violence directed towards us,” Russell Jeung, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, was quoted as saying by the TIME Magazine.

In fact, a peer-reviewed study, published by researchers at the University of California in San Francisco, found that Donald Trump’s first tweet calling COVID a “Chinese virus” was directly responsible for generating a large number of anti-Asian hashtags.

Model Minority Myth And Underreporting of Crimes

A survey by AAPI data in March 2021 indicated that while anti-Asian hate crimes were significantly higher than general hate crimes, Asians are least likely to report these crimes to authorities.

This hesitancy has its roots in the model minority myth. First coined by sociologist William Pettersen in a 1966 New York Times article, the model minority myth is a belief that all Asians are hard-working and intelligent – a 'model' for others – have both class privilege and higher socio-economic status and, therefore, have no reason to complain.

These stereotypes conveniently ignore the struggles and economic realities of Asians under the pretext of a positive perception of the minority. By deeming them all ‘same’ and not acknowledging individual differences, the model minority myth perpetuates structural violence and disrupts inter-racial solidarity.

Acting on the Attacks

The Biden administration has introduced some measures, including setting aside $49.5 million from COVID-relief funds for survivors and setting up a task force to address xenophobia, deeming the attacks "un-American".

According to Reuters, New York has deployed a team of undercover Asian police officers. Other major cities, from San Jose to Chicago, have boosted patrols in Asian neighbourhoods in a bid to foster closer ties in the community. But whether these measures are enough to curb the hate sentiments, remains to be seen.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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