Reported Hate Crimes Merely Tip of Iceberg

Reported Hate Crimes Merely Tip of Iceberg

Jeffrey R. Smith

The Alameda Sun recently reported on Alameda Activists who “marched to Alameda City Hall in response to recent crimes against Asian Americans” (“Alamedans March, Showing Solidarity,” April 1). As Raquel Williams reported, “We don’t want to be the next landmark of a mass shooting, the next landmark of a racist town.”

The march organized by Youth Activists of Alameda (YAOA) is one of many “Stop Anti-Asian Hate” rallies happening the Bay Area. Among others slated were a “Stop Asian Hate” rally at San Francisco City Hall, a “Stop Anti-Asian Violence” rally at St. Mary’s Square, a “Vigil for the Victims of the Atlanta Attacks” at Union Square, “Stand Up and Stop Violence against Asian Americans” in Redwood City and “Skate Against Violence.”

Statistics released by the CSU San Bernardino Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism show that anti-Asian hate crimes reported to the police in major cities in 2020 rose to 145% of the number reported in 2019. But can cited statistics be trusted?

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D. Ill.) suspects Anti-Asian hate crimes are underreported and requests the FBI to investigate. Representative Judy Chu (D. Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, is pushing for legislation to improve the reporting of hate crimes. If underreporting exists, is it evidence of apathy or possibly antipathy?

COVID-19 is one possible catalyst for Anti-Asian behavior. Instead of being given a simple clinical name, COVID-19 — like many elements of our society — the name itself was politicized and weaponized. COVID-19 was labeled the Wuhan Virus, the Chinese Virus and even the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Virus by Falun Gong in the Epoch Times.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, the FBI warned of a surge of anti-Asian violence. Another provocation is cited by Mae Ngai, a historian at Columbia University. She suggests that the U.S. should “pull back from treating China as an adversary” because “When officials express fears over China … Americans immediately turn to a timeworn racial script that questions to loyalty and allegiance … of 20 million Asian Americans.”

Far from being a Chinese Communist Fifth Column, Chinese came here fleeing political persecutions intrinsic to the totalitarians state; here they have thrived because, as a meritocracy, the U.S. rewards education, hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit.

But, can this “meritocracy” be protected from good intentions? The Asian-American entrepreneurial regional landscape is highly concentrated, with 52% of their businesses located in California, additionally more than half (53%) of all minority women-owned companies are Asian-owned.

Regardless of the root causes of anti-Asian behavior, the Bay Area, and the country as well — to everyone’s credit — have been spurred to action by recent violent attacks in Atlanta and the Bay Area. There has been a surge of attacks against Asian-Americans yet many Asians in the Bay Area say the hostility is not new. San Jose resident Wylie Wong reported, “I just felt like we were more enlightened here, but of course that’s not the case.”

San Francisco activist Max Leung was not surprised to see the flood of anti-Asian sentiment in his hometown. Max is the son of Chinese immigrants; he has felt targeted since he was a kid. “I’ve heard racial slurs,” he said. “I’ve been picked on, I’ve been bullied, I’ve been physically assaulted, I’ve been robbed on more than one occasion.”

The most barbaric attack came when Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was assaulted on Jan. 28 while out on a morning walk. She later died from head injuries she sustained. Based on news reports, since the start of 2021, at least 32 Asians have been assaulted or robbed in the Bay Area.

“Whenever there has been a public-health crisis or an economic downturn, Asians and other communities have been the scapegoat's,” explained Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco. “And it really speaks to the status that we have as being forever foreigners, perpetual foreigners and perpetual potential threats.”

Local activists claim that well before the pandemic, anti-Asian discrimination was pervasive and rooted in harmful stereotypes.

Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting project from Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, recorded more than 2,800 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination in the U.S. from March through December 2020; about 700 took place in the Bay Area — a bastion of liberally educated people.

For some, these incidents are shocking, especially in the reputedly progressive Bay Area, a region famous for its liberal ideals. More than a third of people living in San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara counties identify as Asian.
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“Historically, Asians are very silent, especially Chinese,” said Leanna Louie, who founded an Asian-American group after feeling upset that non-Asian bystanders too often do nothing. “We can’t stay silent anymore.”

Activists say people who maintain progressive values might still harbor conflicting feelings, which emerge during times of crisis and fear.

The flurry of attacks targeting people of Asian descent in the Bay Area have highlighted a long simmering problem; it has prompted more than 10,000 people to sign an online petition calling on San Francisco Mayor London Breed and District Attorney Chesa Boudin to step down for failing to hew in violence's against Asians.

Part two of this column will appear next week.

Jeffrey R. Smith teaches mathematics at Encinal High School.