By Congresswoman Judy Chu
Special to The Outlook
Matthew Leung was sitting at a Rosemead bus stop when a man grabbed his cane and beat his hand and head, causing Leung to lose the tip of one of his fingers. This horrific attack should be unthinkable. Instead, it is just one of a recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents happening all across the nation.
What worries so many is that many of the recent victims have been older and more vulnerable. In San Francisco, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, was killed in an unprovoked assault while on his morning walk. In New York, a 61-year-old Filipino man’s face was slashed from ear to ear with a box cutter in the subway. In Oakland’s Chinatown, a camera captured a 91-year-old man being thrown to the ground by an assailant, who then went to assault two more victims. This is becoming almost a daily tragedy.
It was a year ago, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, long before stay-at-home orders were put in place, that Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) were already starting to feel the sting of prejudice due to misinformation and stigma that wrongly associated AAPIs with the coronavirus.
That is why, as the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), I led a press conference over one year ago outside of the U.S. Capitol to combat the surge in anti-Asian discrimination we were beginning to see at the time. We urged every leader to stick to the advice from the CDC and the World Health Organization to not associate the virus with a specific ethnicity, country or geographic region due to the stigma it causes. And we warned that spreading xenophobia would put lives at risk.
But our pleas and the guidance from experts were ignored. Instead, Donald Trump and his Republican followers doubled down on using slurs like “Wuhan virus,” “China plague” and “Kung flu.” Because he wanted to shift blame and anger away from his own flawed response to the coronavirus, more hate and blame was directed at the AAPI community. Hostile anti-Asian COVID comments on Twitter increased by 900%. Elected Trump followers spread even more false conspiracy theories, such as that virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan. Today, there are over 3,000 anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents that have occurred in the past year alone.
Fortunately, we are not alone in fighting back. Throughout the year, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Native American Caucus, as well as House leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stood with us to condemn these attacks and call out Donald Trump and his allies every time they stoked xenophobia against the AAPI community. Even more significantly, we finally have new President Joe Biden, who is working to stop these attacks, not incite them. We saw that in his very first week in office when President Biden issued an executive order that condemned anti-Asian xenophobia and ensures the Department of Justice works with the AAPI community to address these surging hate crimes. But this is still just a start.
First, we encourage any AAPI who is experiencing a hate crime or incident to report it at StopAAPIhate.com. It is safe and confidential.
Second, we need to understand the scope of this problem and help our community fight back. That is why we in CAPAC are meeting with the Department of Justice and are pushing for Congress to pass the NO HATE Act, a bill that would provide more resources and support for state and local law enforcement to help better track and combat hate crimes.
But each of us has a role to play as well. In Oakland, hundreds of young people are volunteering to escort residents of Chinatown around to protect from attacks. And in Orange County, neighbors formed a neighborhood watch after one Asian American family in their community were being harassed nightly. And there are Bystander Intervention trainings for potential witnesses of hate crimes and incidents that teach the five “D”s: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay and Direct.
It is only by working together that we can keep each other safe. Most importantly, as we see or hear about xenophobia and bigotry, we must stand up and speak out. Lives depend on it.