The rhetoric scapegoating China for the coronavirus pandemic—often coming from elite political leaders, particularly Donald Trump—has had its predictable effect: Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed the past few weeks.
Authorities and Asian American community leaders are responding. In New York City, the trend has inspired the creation of a hate crimes hotline designed to help ordinary citizens report such acts. And in the Bay Area, a group of civil rights advocates has begun compiling data on the attacks with the help of a reporting website.
New York officials created the hotline after multiple reports emerged of vicious attacks on Asian American victims targeted as scapegoats of the pandemic. A recent Facebook video showed a Chinese-American woman riding the New York subway home as a male passenger began verbally harassing her. “You’re Chinese, why did you bring corona to America?” the man can be heard saying in the video. He then continued shouting at the victim as she recorded and a bystander tried to block him.
“No one should live in fear for their life because of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “I encourage all victims of discriminatory actions stemming from this pandemic to contact my office.”
The hotline number (1-800-771-7755) will remain open 24 hours a day for anyone wishing to report a hate crime or hateful and threatening behavior, and will be open indefinitely. New York residents wishing to report such acts may also email the attorney general’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As we face an unprecedented and uncertain time for New York, the United States and the world, we must reiterate the fact that this pandemic does not give anyone an excuse to be racist, xenophobic or biased,” James added.
New York officials also denounced the insistence by top Republican officials—including Trump—to link the coronavirus pandemic to Asians. “During this public health crisis, people are fighting for their lives—fighting to keep their families safe,” said Rep. Grace Meng in the statement. “Yet the incessant, irresponsible and atrocious naming of COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ is endangering the lives of Asian Americans.”
The connection between the scapegoating rhetoric and the violence has already been established. Researchers in the San Francisco State University Asian American Studies program reported: “Coronavirus discrimination news increased by 50% from 93 articles in week 1 to 140 stories in week 4.” This was “the tip of the iceberg,” lead researcher Russell Jeung told The New York Times, since the study tracked only incidents serious enough to draw media coverage.
The Asian American Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) created a website devoted to recording and tracking all incidents of hate related to the coronavirus outbreak, particularly those directed at Asian Americans.
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of Los Angeles-based A3PCON, told The Mercury News that the website has multiple goals, including “analyzing the data for larger trends, an educational campaign to dispel racist myths about COVID-19, and, in some cases, helping victims seek restitution.”
“I’m also working with a group of attorneys who might be able to provide pro bono legal assistance to individuals if they, for example, experience workplace discrimination or housing discrimination,” Kulkarni said.
“First and foremost, we want community members to know they are not alone; they can speak out and help stop the spread of bigotry,” Cynthia Choi, the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Secondly, the collected data will allow us to assess the extent and magnitude of these incidents and to develop strategic interventions.”
“There’s a narrative that happens with hate crime from the perpetrator which says, ‘I am attacking you, but actually lots of people agree with me.’ Where hate crime becomes really dangerous is if victims start to believe that,” Mike Ainsworth of the London-based Stop Hate U.K., told The New Yorker. “I’ve talked to victims of hate crime in London, and one of the things they say is ‘being racially abused on the tube station is horrible, but having two hundred people stand there saying nothing is the bit that starts to really upset me and corrode my trust in society.’”