Hate crimes against Asian Americans, on the rise during the pandemic, have been a national issue affecting our country and California. On March 16, tragedy struck in Georgia when eight people were shot, including six Asian women; the perpetrator, a white 21-year-old male, told authorities he viewed the massage parlors where the shootings took place as “a temptation that he wanted to eliminate.”
In Los Angeles there have been many high profile cases recently, such as the elementary school teacher’s aide, Matthew Leung, who lost the tip of his finger after being beaten with his own cane at a bus stop and Shelly Shen who’s neighbors watched as their dog attacked her in West Covina. These attacks have been happening in waves.
The impact of these events have been felt at Cal Poly Pomona, a university where around 21% of students are Asian.
Olivia Lee, a first-year kinesiology student, worries about the safety of her older relatives, a fear she never thought she’d be subjected to. “I’m more concerned about something happening to my grandmother than myself,” said Lee. “I don’t want to turn on the news some day and see her picture.”
Discrimination against Asian Americans in the United States has a long history dating back to the 19th century when there were laws banning Asian immigration and during World War II when Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps.
A virtually unknown incident in southern California was the burning down and destruction of Santa Ana’s Chinatown in 1906 after health officials declared the neighborhood a public hazard because a man named Wong Woh Ye contracted leprosy.
“When bad things happen, many people feel the need to find someone to blame,” said Alex Madva, an associate professor of philosophy and ethnic politics researcher. “This impulse reflects fear and closed-mindedness.”
Former President Donald Trump promoted anti-Asian sentiments over social media which spread like wildfire. The week after Trump tweeted about “the Chinese virus,” the number of coronavirus-related tweets with anti-Asian hashtags rose according to a new study from UC San Francisco.
While hate crimes in America decreased overall, a study based on police department statistics across major U.S. cities found a 150% surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020. The report, released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found the first spikes rose alongside COVID-19 cases.
“Evidence for hate crimes against Asian Americans continued through the early parts of the 21st century, although there is reason to think that these incidents were often under-reported,” said
Madva. “One reason these incidents have been under-reported is social pressure on Asian Americans to act like the ‘Model Minority,’ which means social expectations to not ‘complain’ against mistreatment and instead to just ‘put their heads down’ and work.”
On March 11, President Joe Biden delivered a national address to condemn the violence Asian Americans have experienced throughout the pandemic. Biden called it “Un-American” and demanded they stop. On the day of the president’s address, lawmakers announced the introduction of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to boost support for law enforcement agencies to deal with pandemic-related hate crimes.
Sociology Professor Jack Fong, is critical of the media favoring the sensationalism of the violence rather than portraying positive movements like the group, “Asians With Attitude.” The group’s goal is to unite the Asian community and allies to stand up and fight back against racism and hate crimes by organizing marches and rallies throughout the country to promote social justice.
Since fall 2020, Asians With Attitude have patrolled the streets of Chinatowns across America, keeping the community safe as well as the stores of local owners. This month it was reported that the Oakland community have organized street sweeps of their own, aided by police, armed guards and local volunteers.
“These are good citizens, these are your neighbors,” said Fong. “A lot of Asian American retailers are feeling a lot safer because AWA folks are out there.”
Kayla Kosaki, the coordinator of the Asian & Pacific Islander Student Center, believes the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes is due to an unresolved history of racism repeating itself within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order to stop these attacks, we must educate ourselves and others, build communities of solidarity, advocate for change and work together to end all forms of violence against our communities,” said Kosaki.
CPP has several resources available for anyone in need of a place to talk and to be heard. These campus resources include: CPP Listens, the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance and Broncos Care for Broncos. The latter of which, provides a space where students can report bias incidents, discrimination and wellbeing concerns.
On March 17, President Coley issued a statement that the CPP community condemns the violence and bigotry targeting Asians. “We must seek hope in the face of tragedy by continuing to comfort, respect and uplift one another,” said Coley.
Although Fong is hopeful for tensions to dissipate, he doesn’t want to sugarcoat the realities of the American experience. “I think right now, all Asian Americans and Americans in general, need to really ask ourselves if this segregation that we’re experiencing informally is actually a sign that we cannot unite as a people,” said Fong. “If that is the case, it would break my heart.”