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More than 9,000 anti-Asian American incidents reported since the pandemic began

People attending anti-racism rally
Linda Shen, center, of Alhambra joins an anti-racism rally in Los Angeles in May.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The frequency of anti-Asian incidents — from taunts to outright assaults — reported in the United States so far this year appears poised to surpass last year’s despite months of political and social activism, according to a new report released Thursday.

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that has gathered data on racially motivated attacks related to the COVID-19 pandemic, received 9,081 incident reports between March 19, 2020, and June 2021. Of those, 4,548 occurred last year and 4,533 this year. Since the coronavirus was first reported in China, people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have been scapegoated solely based on their race.

Lawmakers, activists and community groups have pushed back against the wave of attacks. There have been countless social media campaigns, bystander training sessions and public rallies. In May, President Biden signed the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, expediting Justice Department reviews of anti-Asian hate crimes and making available federal grants.

Those supporters should not feel discouraged because the data haven’t shifted much, Stop AAPI Hate leaders said.

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“When you encourage hate, it’s not like a genie in a bottle where you can pull it out and push it back in whenever you want,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. “There’s too much perpetuating these belief systems to make them go away.”

Several factors contributed to the rise in the data, including an increase in incidents and a greater willingness to report them, according to Kulkarni. Also, as the economy opened up more in the last few months, it meant more public interactions and opportunities for attack, she said. And a bump in reporting typically occurs after a high-profile incident like the March 16 Atlanta-area spa shootings that left six Asian women dead.

From assaults on senior citizens in the Bay Area to the shooting of six women at Atlanta-area spas, violence against Asians has surged during the pandemic.

The reports aggregated by Stop AAPI Hate are from the victims themselves or someone reporting on their behalf, such as an adult child. Overall, the report found verbal harassment and shunning — interactions that don’t qualify legally as hate crimes — make up the two largest shares of total incidents. Physical assaults made up the third-largest share. But their proportion of the incidents this year increased from last year — 16.6%, compared with 10.8%.

More than 63% of the incidents were submitted by women. Roughly 31% took place on public streets, and 30% at businesses.

Many Asian Americans and others blame former President Trump for ratcheting up the danger by talking about the coronavirus in racist terms. While Biden has demonstrated “ally-ship,” there is concern that a U.S. investigation into the origins of the virus could lead to more hostility and treatment of Asian Americans as foreign enemies.

“We understand that other nation-states are competitors to the United States, and a number of them do have authoritarian regimes,” Kulkarni said. “But the ways in which we talk about the people and the ways in which blame is assigned somehow looks different for communities of color than it does for, say, the Russian government or the German government.”

Tommy Gong, elections chief in San Luis Obispo County and a third-generation American, is targeted because of his ethnicity.

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Many of the headline-making attacks over the last year and a half have been against elderly Asian people on both coasts. In most of those cases, a senior was beaten, kicked, shoved or even stabbed from out of nowhere. Several such incidents have been caught on video.

Anni Chung, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Self-Help for the Elderly, says the seniors they help were hit by a “second virus — that is, a hate virus.” The organization provides food and programs for more than 40,000 older adults in the Bay Area, most of them of Asian descent. The group went from transporting a pre-pandemic load of 400 meals daily to more than 5,000. Last year, it distributed 963,000 meals overall, compared with 436,000 typically.

“Sometimes when we talk to seniors, they say this hatred drove them to be stuck in their house even worse than the pandemic,” Chung said.

For them, the fear is more than a headline but something in their own backyard.

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Charles Yu, the National Book Award-winning author of ‘Interior Chinatown,’ joins the L.A. Times Book Club in a chat with film critic Justin Chang.

“One of our clients was on the bus. Right before the man got off the bus, he just punched her,” Chung said. “She said no one — not the bus driver and a number of Chinese on the bus — went to her care.”

Giving into that fear means seniors have missed important things like doctor’s appointments or exercise routines at the park. So, in June, with some funding from the city, the organization expanded a volunteer escort service to accompany seniors on errands or outings around Chinatown and other neighborhoods. They had more than 200 requests that month.

The onslaught of verbal and physical assaults has drawn more skepticism than sympathy from some. Peter Yu, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado who is Chinese American, came under fire last month for characterizing anti-Asian hate crime as exaggerated.

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“I would welcome him to look at the data and see there has been a significant increase,” Kulkarni said. “This may be a situation when people refuse to see racism or misogyny. I think they’re just really refusing to see reality and how, unfortunately, in the U.S. we have allowed those forces to prevent people from living their lives.”


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