Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, violence against Asian communities has risen drastically. In a survey conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) of police departments in 16 major U.S. cities, 122 anti-Asian hate crimes were discovered in 2020 — a 149% increase from the 49 hate crimes in 2019. A report by United Nations officials attributes the uptick in such crimes to the rhetoric former President Donald Trump used in his speeches and tweets in regards to the pandemic.
On Mar. 10, 2020, Trump retweeted a post by supporter and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. The tweet labeled COVID-19 as the “China virus,” and Trump reposted it with the caption “we need the Wall more than ever,” referring to the United States-Mexico border wall. Several Trump supporters used the coronavirus’ foreign origins to push a point of immigration curbs and reforms.
On Mar. 9, 2020, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy shared a tweet with the link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website with the caption, “Everything you need to know about the Chinese coronavirus can be found on one, regularly-updated website.”
Florida Representative Lois Frankel asked Robert Redfield, then-Director of the CDC, whether he would agree that such terminology was “absolutely wrong and inappropriate.”
“Yes,” Redfield said. “China was the first phase. Korea and Iran was the second phase, with Italy, now all of Europe.”
In a prime-time television address about the virus on the night of Mar. 11, 2020, Trump made numerous references to China, including calling the disease a “foreign virus.” The Trump administration followed suit in giving COVID-19 names with racist implications, such as “Chinese Virus” or “Kung Flu.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complained about China’s lack of transparency on what he called the “Wuhan virus.” This garnered a response from the Chinese foreign ministry, who called Pompeo’s terminology “despicable.” “Despite the fact that the WHO has officially named this novel type of coronavirus, a certain American politician, disrespecting science and the WHO decision, jumped at the first chance to stigmatize China and Wuhan with it,” Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said.
This narrative jeopardized the well-being of Asian-American immigrants from China and other parts of Asia. The American political landscape was riddled with fierce debate on various aspects of COVID-19. This voracious spread of anti-Asian rhetoric has led to a rise in discrimination and racism against Asian-Americans. The view coming from the majority of the right end of the political spectrum allowed brutality and discrimination against Asian-Americans to become frequent throughout last year and into this year.
Internet Discrimination Against Asian-Americans
Since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic and cases began rising worldwide, theories about the virus’s origin appeared on multiple news sources and social media platforms.
Around May 2020, a WHO scientist revealed that the COVID-19 virus originated in bats in Wuhan, China. Bats are the source of two coronaviruses that caused lethal outbreaks in the past two decades: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS). According to Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert in animal diseases that jump to humans, the virus probably arrived in humans through contact with animals raised for food supply. Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans at a “wet market” in Wuhan, the details of which still have to be proven.
This news caused a major uproar. In China, bats are sold and consumed. As this is not common practice in the U.S. and many other countries, people began throwing racist insults towards anyone who ‘looked’ Chinese, blaming them for the outbreak.
Even though the claim that the virus jumped from animals to humans from bat consumption was proven to be untrue, Canadian guitarist Bryan Adams tweeted, “Some f—ing bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards.”
Another theory about the origin of the COVID-19 virus is that it was deliberately released from a Chinese lab, a theory that Former President Trump has supported, causing even more brutality against Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans.
Incidents of Violence Against Asian-Americans Increase Throughout Country, Proving Media Spread of Misconceptions
Last year in April, a man threw a caustic chemical on a 39-year-old Asian woman taking out the trash in front of her Brooklyn home, horribly burning her neck, face, and hands.
This year, on Jan. 28, 84-year-old Thai-American Vichar Ratanapakdee was walking in the Anza Vista neighborhood in San Francisco when a man ran across the street and violently shoved him to the ground. Ratanapakdee never regained consciousness and died of a brain hemorrhage two days later.
Weeks later, on Feb. 4, a video clip surfaced of a 91-year-old man being shoved to the ground in Oakland’s Chinatown, right outside of the Asian Resource Center. The prosecutor, in this case, alleges that the suspect, Yahya Muslim, attacked two other individuals, a 60-year-old man, and a 55-year-old woman, later in the day in the same manner. Oakland’s Chinatown has reported more than 20 instances of violent attacks, including robberies, since January of this year.
On Feb. 5, Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino man, was on his way to work on a Manhattan subway on Wednesday morning when he was slashed across the face. Quintana was left bleeding and could only get help when he got off the train from a ticket booth attendant who called 911.
Very recently, on Mar. 16, a gunman went on a shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia. The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, 21, allegedly killed eight people and injured one across three different Asian-owned spas. The named victims are Julie Park, Hyeon Jeong Park, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Xiaojie Tan, 49, Paul Andre Michels, 54, and Daoyou Feng, 44. Two victims remain unnamed. Of the eight who died, six were Asian. This is the most recent occurrence of an anti-Asian hate crime reported on a national level.
These incidents are part of a widespread pattern of violent crimes against Asian-Americans, specifically the elderly and senior citizens.
In New York City alone, the NYPD reported that anti-Asian hate crimes went up 1,900% in 2020. Stop AAPI Hate, a database in which individuals can report hate crimes and instances of racial discrimination, gathered 2,808 reports between March 19 and Dec. 31 of last year.
The xenophobia and violence prevalent in this year and the past are heightened by the economic fallout caused by the pandemic and fears of the virus. Kellina Craig-Henderson, who works for the National Science Foundation and has studied the psychological impact of hate crimes, said that These attacks have lasting effects. People targeted because of their race and ethnicity can suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related ailments.
The Asian American Bar Association of New York issued recommendations for addressing the attacks, including formalizing the Asian Hate Crime Task Force as a funded unit.
However, in September, more than 25 community groups condemned the task force, partly due to the effects over-policing can have on people of color. Additionally, a unit such as this one fails to address the root causes of anti-Asian racism.
AAPI activist Helen Zia says that part of the reason for such heinous attacks is the invisibility of Asian American communities and lack of understanding of the racism they have faced. “It’s part of the systemic racism of depriving all Americans — including Asian Americans — of our own history,” Zia said. “I call it ‘missing in history.’”
To help combat the problem, Amanda Nguyen, founder of the nonprofit Rise said that the most powerful tool we all have is our voice. “In order for us to heal as a nation, we must learn, we must acknowledge where we are at now, and then together working cross-community, we’re able to move forward into a more equitable future.”
Amid the rise in hate crimes and harassment, President Joseph Biden signed an executive action on Jan. 26 directing federal agencies to combat xenophobia against the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Still, rates of anti-Asian violence continue to hover at their increased rates.
Through Teen Lenses: Did you know that hate crimes against Asian-Americans have increased during the pandemic? Why do you think that is?
“Yes, I’ve seen many media articles of recent Asian – American hate crimes. I’m not completely as educated on the subject as I would want myself to be, but I think it’s mainly because Trump had made it seem as if China caused COVID-19. From what I’ve heard, his supporters have become a lot more violent towards Asians and Asian-Americans.” Ellie Teal, 15, Freshman at Thomas A. Edison High School, Alexandria, Virginia
“Yes, I have been made aware of the many hate crimes against Asians that have surfaced since the pandemic started because of social media. I think this happened because people believe that COVID-19 originated in China. It’s painfully obvious that people can’t tell the difference between the many different Asian countries. So, when they see an Asian-American, they automatically assume they’re Chinese. And even though China is the origin of the virus, the people of China shouldn’t be blamed for what could just be one man’s mistake, and neither should the rest of the Asian-American population.” A. Mohamed, 17, Senior at Thomas A. Edison High School, Alexandria, Virginia
“Yes, I have noticed the increase in Asian-American hate crimes across the U.S. I think it has to do with a large amount of misinformation that’s being spread and the misjudgment many people have made during this pandemic.” Nylah Mitchell, 17, Senior at Thomas A. Edison High School, Alexandria, Virginia