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Asian Americans See Spike in Hate-Based Violence in Trump Era

Auditi Guha

While a recently released report from the FBI does not track attacks on Asian Americans, it does document a steep rise in hate crimes in 2016.

A fake ethics course advertised on fliers at the University of Texas at Austin clearly meant to denigrate Chinese students; an Asian man on his way to work in Virginia threatened by a white man who deliberately blocked his path; a turbaned Sikh candidate in the recent election mistakenly thought to be Muslim and smeared as a terrorist; another Asian man attacked by two white men who shouted, “Go back to your fucking country, chink. Stealing our jobs and hurting our fucking economy.”

These are some of the attacks reported by Asians, as documented by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a national group advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities.

The stories collected via a new website, often anonymously, and the toll-free number 1-844-9-NOHATE, indicate that Asians in the United States have not been spared amid the documented rise in hate crime and anti-immigrant sentiment that defines the Trump era.

“It’s been very intense. We’ve seen houses of worship denigrated, people attacked, even killed,” said Aarti Kohli, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

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Anti-Japanese sentiment existed in the United States before World War II, and anti-Chinese furor was fueled by Chinese workers arriving in the mid-19th century. For most, this is ancient history.

Trump bashed China, Japan, and Mexico in his summer 2015 presidential campaign announcement, as anti-immigrant sentiment has since been supercharged by the Republican’s inflammatory rhetoric. 

The white supremacist, anti-immigrant language and policies promoted by the Trump administration has opened the door to a flurry of hate attacks, emboldening everyone from employers to landlords to attack immigrants, “and this is a really dangerous trend that we are seeing over and over again,” Kohli said.

While a recently released report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not track attacks on Asian Americans, it does document a steep rise in hate crimes in 2016. The 6,063 single-bias incidents recorded by police departments in the year of Trump’s election shows that about 58 percent of the victims were targeted because of their race or ancestry and about 21 percent were targeted because of their religion. Of the 5,770 offenders counted, 46.3 percent were white and 26.1 percent were Black, according to the report.

The actual numbers are thought to be much higher because 88 percent of participating police departments reported no hate crimes in 2016. The Bureau of Justice, on the other hand, estimated an average of 250,000 hate crimes each year from 2004 to 2015, the majority of which were not reported to police.

From Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man who was bludgeoned with a baseball bat 35 years ago by white workers at a Detroit auto plant before he died, to Srinivas Kuchibhotla, one of the two Indian men shot by a white man in Kansas this year, and Ny Nourn, a Cambodian sexual assault survivor detained by ICE this month after spending 16 years in prison, Asian Americans are just as vulnerable as any other non-white group in Trump’s America.

To protect them, Advancing Justice has amped up “Know Your Rights” education efforts, and last week rolled out a new hotline and updated website to make it easier for Asian-Americans to report hate incidents and crimes in multiple languages, including Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, and Vietnamese.

StandAgainstHatred.org has collected a bevy of stories tracking incidents of hate, ranging from elderly residents harassed by their neighbors in Pima County, Arizona, to the Hollywood Sikh Temple in Los Angeles being vandalized.

A heartening note is that many of the people being targeted who ran for office won elections this year in communities where voters clearly decided to support them.

“And that’s why it’s important for people to come forward,” Kohli said. “If you don’t come forward, you don’t actually know there are people of good will who won’t tolerate hate. So we are encouraging people to come forward, encouraging them to work with allies and other communities to ensure we have a better future.”

In the Midwest, where there has been “a real uptick” in the incidents of harassment of South Asian and Muslim American residents, the organization works with several community allies, said Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago office.

With the Asian American community in the Midwest doubling in size in the past two decades and fanning out beyond the cities, there has been “some friction” as they come in contact with white residents who have not traditionally had the same level of exposure to people of color. That coupled with the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming from Washington, D.C., has lead to incidents of hate spiking there, he said.

About three-fourths of all Asian Americans in the Chicago metro area speak a language other than English at home, and with about 30 percent of them not being proficient in English, “our work has really become really crucial, especially the language piece,” Le said.

Coupled with the lack of diversity and language support at suburban police departments, it creates “a recipe for disaster” when hate crimes occur, he added.

Underrepresentation is a huge issue, particularly in immigrant-heavy areas in the South where hate crimes are rarely reported, said Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta.

“In the South, Asian Americans are the fastest growing immigrant group and South Asians make up almost 100,000 in Georgia,” she said.

Anti-Muslim sentiment, for example, is particularly high in an area where Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) filed a bill this month seeking to restrict women from wearing a burqa. It would subject Muslim women to the state’s anti-masking statute originally targeting the Ku Klux Klan, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“We don’t actually have any anti-hate crime legislation here, and whenever it is proposed, it is struck down pretty immediately,” Cho said.

There were some reports of hate crimes under a law that existed for four years until the Georgia Supreme Court struck it down in 2004, calling it “unconstitutionally vague,” the New York Times reported.

To fight back, advocates distribute the “Know Your Rights” card statewide in 23 languages and host educating sessions in the different immigrant communities, Cho said.

Advocates in Los Angeles, for instance, have come up with a state-specific brochure in multiple languages on reporting hate crimes, said Karin Wang, vice president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.

“Hate crimes are on the rise across the U.S. but we are still seeing underreporting in Asian and other immigrant communities,” she said. “We encourage reporting of hate incidents to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of how the rise in hate is actually affecting Asian American communities across different ethnicities, whether it’s Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Southeast Asian, or South Asian.”

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