Hate crimes and incidents directed at Asian Americans have surged during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, whose director said Wednesday that civic groups and police departments had fielded more than 100 reports of hate incidents tied to the pandemic from February through April.
Many of these incidents were “acts of hate-motivated hostility” that did not amount to hate crimes but were no less jarring, the commission’s director, Robin Toma, said in a virtual town hall.
He described several reported incidents: A man spewed racial and misogynistic epithets at an Asian American woman walking her dog. A resident of an apartment complex, assuming an Asian tenant had contracted the coronavirus, tried to get that tenant evicted. A bomb threat targeted “a major Asian American institution,” which Toma didn’t identify by name.
Throughout the country, law enforcement has identified hate crimes directed at Asian Americans and believed to be motivated by the pandemic. In New York, teenage girls accosted a 51-year-old Asian woman on a bus, hitting her over the head with an umbrella and making “anti-Asian statements,” city police said. Three 15-year-old girls were charged with hate crimes.
In Midland, Texas, a 19-year-old man stabbed an Asian American father and his children, ages 2 and 6, at a Sam’s Club, law enforcement authorities said. “The suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus,” FBI agents wrote in an intelligence report circulated to local law enforcement agencies and reported by ABC News.
In the first four months of this year, the Los Angeles Police Department has investigated 10 hate crimes, three of them “COVID-driven,” Dominic Choi, an LAPD deputy chief, said during the virtual town hall. The department noted four hate crimes in the same period last year. Choi said city residents probably had suffered more hate crimes than the numbers reflected because such encounters often go unreported.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, whose deputies prosecute felony hate crimes, said some of the incidents Toma described — Asian Americans being yelled at, insulted, heckled — could not be charged as crimes. But if a person is physically injured or threatened, has property vandalized, or if a communal building such as a church is damaged, those crimes will be prosecuted, Lacey said. A hate allegation can add years to a prison sentence, she said, and in a homicide case, it can bring life in prison.
Lacey urged anyone who had experienced a hate crime or hate-motivated incident to report it.
“Even though you may not know who committed the crime, even though you may not know the identity, who knows?” she said. “That incident may help us prove a crime in the future.”