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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered an environment filled with anxiety, stress, and pain. Public health measures like mask wearing, personal protective equipment, and physical and social distancing have become common. Terminology like quarantine, isolation, droplets, and essential staff have been introduced to the public or re-engineered for the pandemic. In addition to the challenges everyone faces in their day-to-day activities during a pandemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have seen an increase in bias-motivated incidents including harassment, property damage, and violence because of a stigma around the geographic origins of COVID-19.
Unlike other types of crimes, hate crimes have a broader impact on the immediate victim as well as others like them. They not only destroy lives and devastate families; they also traumatize the communities in which they occur. These acts make groups suspicious and fearful of one another and restrained from engaging in civic life or working with local law enforcement in investigating and preventing crime.
In one incident early in the pandemic, an elderly Asian man was collecting recyclables in San Francisco when attackers threatened, assaulted, and taunted him with racially charged comments—all while bystanders looked on and at times laughed and joined in taunts. The incident was posted on Instagram and in days was viewed more than 3 million times.1
Two separate incidents occurred on March 10, 2020, in New York City—in one, a woman said another had punched her in the face, and in the other, a suspect kicked a man to the ground. In both cases, the suspects made anti-Asian remarks to the Asian victims.2 In Chesapeake, Virginia, vandals damaged a car belonging to owners of a local Chinese restaurant and also yelled slurs at and threw a bucket of dirty water on them.3
In January 2021, an elderly Asian-American man in San Francisco was shoved so brutally that he later died, while across the bay in Oakland, a suspect shoved three elderly people to the ground.4
These attacks have also targeted Asian-owned businesses. In January 2021, people vandalized at least 13 businesses, all mostly Asian-owned, in Portland, Oregon.5 In Los Angeles, vandals broke windows and set a Japanese Buddhist temple on fire in February 2021.6 Also in February, robbers vandalized multiple restaurants—many of them Asian-owned— in Howard County, Maryland.7
While all of these incidents are under investigation for potential bias criminal implications, they are still adding onto the fear, pain, and anxiety of the pandemic by affecting the victims, families, communities, and at times, the entire nation.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that is collecting and tracking AAPI hate and discrimination incidents during the pandemic, released data that between March 19 and December 31, 2020, they received more than 2,808 firsthand accounts from 47 states and the District of Columbia of anti-Asian hate, with 126 involving Asian Americans older than 60. The data are further broken out into type of incident with 70.9 percent involving verbal harassment, 21.4 percent shunning or avoidance, 8.7 percent physical assaults, and 6.4 percent coughing or spitting. The states with the most incidents correlated with higher Asian-American populations, including 43.8 percent of incidents occurring in California (16.0 percent AAPI), 13 percent of incidents occurring in New York (9.1 percent AAPI), 4.1 percent of incidents occurring in Washington (10.4 percent AAPI), and 2.8 percent in Illinois (6.0 percent AAPI).8
According to a Pew Research Center survey, four in 10 Asian adults have had people act as if they are uncomfortable around them and three in 10 say that have been harassed with slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the start of the pandemic.9
With regard to national crime data, the 2020 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Program’s Hate Crime Reporting—which collects and reports on voluntary submissions from law enforcement agencies—will not be ready until later in the year. Although not a true comparison because of the difference in reporting, the most recent 2019 data on bias-motivated incidents shows that of the 4,784 single-bias crime offenses that were motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry, 4.3 percent resulted from anti-Asian bias compared to 48.4 percent motivated by anti-Black or African American bias, 15.8 percent by anti-White bias, and 14.1 percent by anti-Hispanic or Latino bias.10 A comparison of the 2019 to 2020 data will be important when the data are available.
The World Health Organization has stated that “stigma occurs when people negatively associate an infectious disease such as the coronavirus with a specific population;”11 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), echoing those same sentiments, have said that “race does not play a factor in contracting or spreading of the virus.”12
FBI Director Christopher Wray distributed a letter to law enforcement officials around the United States about his concern for “the potential for hate crimes by individuals and groups targeting minority populations in the United States who they believe as responsible for the spread of the virus”13 and in particular Asian Americans.14 Further, on January 26, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, stating:
It is important for national, state, and local leaders to echo these sentiments and to be firm in their stance that hate will not be tolerated, especially regarding these recent surges in attacks on the AAPI community. This firmness was exemplified by the public service announcement posted by then Seattle (Washington) Police Chief Carmen Best emphasizing that Seattle has no place for hate.16
Encouraging the reporting of incidents and crimes will allow communities and law enforcement to fully understand the scope of the problem in a community and put resources toward preventing and addressing attacks based on bias and hate. For example, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a hotline for individuals to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents.17 Once reported to law enforcement, it is important that all known hate crimes be investigated swiftly and appropriately. Properly and compassionately investigating and responding to hate crimes is vital to creating and maintaining trust between law enforcement and communities.
While not all of these incidents will meet the legal definition of criminally prosecutable hate crimes, it is still important to acknowledge and track hate incidents because these still have significant community harm. Agencies like the Arlington (Texas) Police Department have started tracking these types of incidents for precisely that reason.18
Public messaging in the aftermath of a potential hate crime is crucial to build and maintain community trust in law enforcement. Proper messaging and response can ground a community which may be feeling vulnerable as the result of being the target of a crime.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is committed to addressing this increase in AAPI hate crimes, and on March 5, 2021, DOJ hosted a listening session with AAPI community groups and committed to action. The readout includes action items for the coming months.19
Nazmia E.A. Comrie
Senior Program Specialist
The COPS Office
1Rima Abdelkader and Ali Gostanian, “Police Investigate Attack on Elderly Asian Man Collecting Recyclables in San Francisco,” NBC, last modified February 26, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/police-investigate-attack-elderly-asian-man-collecting-recyclables-san-francisco-n1143471.
2Natasha Roy, “’This is Unacceptable’: New York City Mayor Denounces Coronavirus Discrimination,” NBC, last modified March 12, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/unacceptable-new-york-city-mayor-denounces-coronavirus-discrimination-n1157026.
3Regina Mobley, “Possible Hate Crime under Investigation at Chesapeake Chinese Restaurant; Customers Respond with Support,” WAVY, last modified April 27, 2020, https://www.wavy.com/news/local-news/chesapeake/possible-hate-crime-under-investigation-at-chesapeake-chinese-restaurant/.
4Tami Abdollah and Trevor Hughes, “Hate Crimes against Asian Americans Are on the Rise,” USA Today, March 4, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/02/27/asian-hate-crimes-attacks-fueled-covid-19-racism-threaten-asians/4566376001/.
5Kate Williams, “Asian-Owned Business Hit in More Than a Dozen Acts of Vandalism in Portland’s Jade District,” Oregon Live, last modified February 10, 2021, https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2021/02/asian-owned-businesses-hit-in-more-than-a-dozen-acts-of-vandalism-in-portlands-jade-district.html.
6“LA Police Probe Fire, Vandalism at Japanese Buddhist Temple,” ABC News, last modified February 27, 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/la-police-probe-fire-vandalism-japanese-buddhist-temple-76161848.
7 “Police Investigate Vandalism of Several Business in Columbia,” Yahoo! News, last modified February 12, 2021, https://news.yahoo.com/police-investigate-vandalism-several-businesses-032718717.html.
8“Stop AAPI Hate: New Data on Anti-Asian Hate Incidents against Elderly and Total National Incidents in 2020,” press release, Stop AAPI Hate, February 9, 2021, https://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/a1w.90d.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Press-Statement-re_-Bay-Area-Elderly-Incidents-2.9.2021-1.pdf; “QuickFacts: Washington; New York; Illinois; California; United States,” U.S. Census Bureau, accessed March 17, 2021, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/WA,NY,IL,CA,US/PST045219.
9 Neil G. Ruiz, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, and Christine Tamir, “Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination amid the COVID-19 Outbreak,” Pew Research Center, last modified July 1, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/07/01/many-black-and-asian-americans-say-they-have-experienced-discrimination-amid-the-covid-19-outbreak/.
10Criminal Justice Information Services Division, 2019 Hate Crime Statistics (Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020), https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2019/topic-pages/incidents-and-offenses.
11 Layla Abbas, “Asian Americans Report Influx of Racist Attacks since Coronavirus Pandemic, Data Finds,” NBC Los Angeles, last modified April 7, 2020, https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/asian-americans-report-influx-of-racist-attacks-since-coronavirus-pandemic-data-finds/2327045/.
12“Frequently Asked Questions,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last modified March 1, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fdaily-life-coping%2Fshare-facts.html.
13Josh Campbell, “FBI Concerned about Potential for Hate Crimes during Coronavirus Pandemic,” CNN, last modified April 21, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/21/politics/fbi-hate-crimes-coronavirus/index.html.
14Josh Margolin, “FBI Warns of Potential Surge in Hate Crimes against Asian Americans amid Coronavirus,” ABC News, last modified March 27, 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/US/fbi-warns-potential-surge-hate-crimes-asian-americans/story?id=69831920.
15“Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” The White House, January 26, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/26/memorandum-condemning-and-combating-racism-xenophobia-and-intolerance-against-asian-americans-and-pacific-islanders-in-the-united-states/.
16Chief Carmen Best (Ret). (@carmenbest), “Washington State is no place for hate. In a show of solidarity, @LoriMatsukawa joined me to remind everyone that hate has no place in our community. Report hate, including racist name calling, to 911. We are here to help, and will respond to investigate. #WeGotThisSeattle,” Twitter post, March 30, 2020, 11:17 p.m., https://twitter.com/carmenbest/status/1244826125328474113.
17“AG James Launches Hotline to Combat Coronavirus Hate Crimes and Xenophobic Rhetoric,” press release, New York State Office of the Attorney General, March 23, 2020, https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2020/ag-james-launches-hotline-combat-coronavirus-hate-crimes-and-xenophobic-rhetoric.
18“Hate or Bias Crimes and Incidents,” City of Arlington, Texas, accessed March 17, 2021, https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/police/community/community_programs/social_justice/hate_or_bias_crimes_and_incidents.
19“Readout of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Hate Crimes against Asian American and Pacific Island Communities,” press release, Office of Public Affairs, March 5, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/readout-department-justice-s-efforts-combat-hate-crimes-against-asian-american-and-pacific.
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