Alarm at hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in US

The US national anthem being sung at a Chinese New Year ceremony in New York City's Chinatown on Feb 12, 2021.
The US national anthem being sung at a Chinese New Year ceremony in New York City's Chinatown on Feb 12, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Authorities in Alameda County, California have created a special response unit focused on crimes against Asians, particularly older Asians.

The move on Monday (Feb 8) came after a string of violent assaults on Asian Americans, including one in Oakland, California in which a young man violently pushed a 91-year-old Asian man to the ground.

The video has sent a chill through the Asian American community. Two more Asian Americans - a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman - were also "victimised" that same day on Jan 31 and had to be taken to hospital, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A 28-year-old African American has been arrested. He is a suspect in all three cases.

The incidents came just days after Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, died after he was similarly attacked while out on a morning walk in his San Francisco neighbourhood on Jan 28.

A 19-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and elder abuse in that case, and is being held without bail.

At a press conference on Monday in Oakland's Chinatown, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, announcing the task force, said: "The rapid increase in criminal acts targeted against members of the Asian community, particularly Chinese Americans, who live and work in Alameda County is intolerable."

This week the Committee of 100, an influential non-partisan group of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia, and the arts, released a White Paper commissioned from the Economist Intelligence Unit, on the contribution of Chinese Americans to the United States.

The release was in response to increased anti-China sentiment in "an age inflamed with resurgent racism, and with geopolitical tension reversing decades of fruitful exchange with China".

"The US has reached a moment when it is critical to examine how diversity has benefited the society and how minority groups such as Chinese Americans have, over time, become identified with the country itself," the report says.

"An awareness of the contribution of immigrant groups - and the damaging misperceptions that exist alongside this - can ensure a future of co-operation, mutual appreciation and respect."

Chinese Americans contributed over US$300 billion ($373 billion) to US gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 through consumer spending, supporting three million jobs, the report says.

"There are over 160,000 Chinese American-owned businesses in the US, generating approximately US$240 billion in revenue and supporting 1.3 million jobs as of 2017," it adds.

In August 2020 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in a note on the United States wrote: "Racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian Americans have reached an alarming level across the United States since the outbreak of Covid-19."

"Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans, including Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Burmese descent, among others, have been subject to racist, xenophobic attacks," the paper warned.

"Reportedly, victims experienced being spat on, blocked from public transportation, discriminated against in workplaces, shunned, beaten, stabbed, and insulted as transmitters of the coronavirus. Women were reportedly harassed more than twice than men."

The Jan 6 storming of the Capitol demonstrated the danger of anti-Chinese sentiment amplified to deafening levels by right wing media.

Take Larry R. Brock, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel photographed carrying zip-tie handcuffs on the Senate floor during the insurrection by hundreds of Donald Trump supporters.

A week before he wrote on Facebook that he saw no distinction among the Democrats, the Biden administration and "an invading force of Chinese communists".

On Jan 27, amid the documented rise in hate crimes and harassment, President Joe Biden signed an executive action directing federal agencies to combat xenophobia.

"Today, I'm directing federal agencies to combat the resurgence of xenophobia, particularly against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, that we've seen skyrocket during this pandemic. This is unacceptable and it's un-American," the President said.

Although the Committee of 100 welcomed the statement, they still feel more is needed. Hence, the White Paper.

"Last year, we saw almost 3,000 documented cases of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian incidents," San Francisco-based Zhengyu Huang, President of the Committee of 100, told The Straits Times.

"We knew we had to speak up forcefully, because racism and discrimination are unfortunate negative aspects of society."

"I think this is the right time, because despite 175 years of contribution, we still suffer from the perpetual foreigner stereotype, and that stereotype has been exacerbated by two seismic trends - increasing tension and competition between the US and China, and Covid, which creates a lot of fear and distrust amongst the general population."

But he added: "What makes America special is it always tries to do better, always tries to become a better version of itself."

"This we believe is a long process, perhaps a long overdue process, and perhaps a process that is not separate to Chinese Americans and Asian Americans, but integral to big conversations around systemic biases, inequality and justice in America."