• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Asian Americans look for assistance, legislation in wake of Atlanta attacks

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American leaders in Atlanta on Friday to condemn recent attacks. Mr. Biden said Asian Americans have been unfairly scapegoated during the coronavirus pandemic. CBS News senior White House correspondent Weijia Jiang spoke to some Asian Americans who have been the victims of some of the thousands of incidents of violence and harassment.

Video Transcript

- The president and vice president said Asian-Americans have been unfairly scapegoated during the past year of the pandemic. As senior White House correspondent Weijia Jiang reports, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the victims of thousands of incidents of violence and harassment.

WEIJIA JIANG: Mike Nguyen was stunned to see this at his ramen shop in San Antonio, Texas on Sunday, the words "King flu," "Commie," and "I hope you die" covering the windows.

MIKE NGUYEN: I definitely believe that it was definitely a hate crime.

WEIJIA JIANG: Nguyen said the vandalism came after he publicly criticized Texas Greg Abbott's decision to lift a mask mandate.

MIKE NGUYEN: He's putting a lot of us in danger, you know. He's-- at a time where we need him to be a leader, he's not being a leader.

WEIJIA JIANG: A two-time cancer survivor, Nguyen was worried about his customers' health. Now he's worried about his own.

MIKE NGUYEN: The next escalation is going to be either physical harm or even something fatal, so, you know, that's very worrisome for me.

WEIJIA JIANG: So you worry that you could lose your life?

MIKE NGUYEN: Yeah, absolutely. You know, people have, you know, threatened my life. They say, I hope you die, you know? People say that they want to find where I live and burn down my house.

WEIJIA JIANG: The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has recorded nearly 4,000 crimes against Asian-Americans since the start of the pandemic, an increase of about 150% in major US cities. This week alone, a 76-year-old grandmother in San Francisco is recovering after fighting off her attacker. And this 59-year-old man was brutally beaten, nearly blinded in one eye.

JOE BIDEN: Too many Asian-Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake.

WEIJIA JIANG: On Friday, President Biden met with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta to talk about solutions to combat the violence that just claimed eight lives in their city, including six Asian women. Georgia State legislature, Michelle Au.

MICHELLE AU: The last administration clearly, clearly promoted and fomented a culture of anti-Asian-American and anti-immigrant animus. Now, with the Biden administration, he clearly is invested in listening to this issue.

WEIJIA JIANG: And Thursday on Capitol Hill, lawmakers held a hearing about the surge in attacks.

JUDY CHU: Asian-Americans must not be used as scapegoats in times of crisis. Lives are at stake, and it's critical that Congress takes bold action to address this pandemic of discrimination and hate.

WEIJIA JIANG: Texas Congressman Chip Roy questioned if a crime should be linked to hate.

CHIP ROY: Who decides what is hate? Who decides what is the kind of speech that deserves policing?

WEIJIA JIANG: Roy also defended the use of anti-Chinese rhetoric to describe the virus.

CHIP ROY: I'm not going to be ashamed of saying I oppose the Chi-Coms.

WEIJIA JIANG: New York Congresswoman Grace Meng fired back.

GRACE MENG: This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community and to find solutions. And we will not let you take our voice away from us.

WEIJIA JIANG: Meng introduce the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act after racist voicemails flooded her office.

- Chinese virus. Kung flu. [BLEEP] you, Kung flu.

WEIJIA JIANG: In Los Angeles, Denny Kim heard similar slurs while walking down a sidewalk last month.

DENNY KIM: They started calling me Chinese virus. They started calling me a [BLEEP]. They started calling me a [BLEEP].

WEIJIA JIANG: Kim, a Korean-American and a US Air Force veteran, said the assault quickly turned physical.

DENNY KIM: The assailants, when they were beating me up on the ground, they told me that they wanted to kill me.

WEIJIA JIANG: Now both he and Nguyen are pleading for more protection.

MIKE NGUYEN: I think what needs to happen is more awareness, you know, and actual charging people with hate crimes, showing that we're not going to-- this is not tolerable.

DENNY KIM: And I feel like President Biden really needs to protect Asian-Americans right now. If you're listening to me, if you're watching this right now, sir, I need you to help my people, sir. Because we're getting shot and killed, sir.

WEIJIA JIANG: President Biden says he does support Congressman Meng's COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would require a faster federal response to review and track all of these attacks. Meanwhile, a group of nearly 200 organizations is calling on the White House to provide $300 million to help the victims and to give more resources to combating this violence. Jeff.

- Weijia, Vice President Harris said people in positions of power with the biggest pulpits have been scapegoating Asian-Americans over the past year. It's no secret she's referring to former President Trump. How did we get here?

WEIJIA JIANG: You know, Jeff, having covered the pandemic from day one, I tracked the president's rhetoric. And he wanted to make the very clear argument that this was not his fault. And at one point, he even said he was going to stop using phrases like "Chinese virus" and "Wuhan flu" because of concern for the Asian-American community. But then, as the number of cases and as the death toll continued to rise, he brought that language back because he wanted to make clear that this was China's fault.

Even though there were so many warnings that this was hurting the Asian-American community, and now members and victims are telling me they believe that gave other people a pass to do the same thing, to misplace the blame, and to take out their anger, which we are all feeling, because it has been such a long haul on, you know, innocent victims that have nothing to do with the virus.

I mean, many of these people are not even Chinese-Americans. These are Korean-Americans. These are Japanese-Americans. They just look vaguely Asian and therefore are being targeted.

- You very bravely, Weijia, stood up and called the president out on that very fact. But we also have seen, as you said, the surge in violence against Asian-Americans in the past year. You described it amply here. But the discrimination is not new.

WEIJIA JIANG: Right. I mean, there is a long history of discrimination against Asian-Americans in the US beginning in the late 1800s, which actually came from the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring Chinese laborers from becoming immigrants. And then, of course, there were the internment camps during World War II.

And then more recently, in 1982, there was a real case that shed light on this violence. There was a man named Vincent Chin. He was Chinese, but two white men mistook him as a Japanese-American, and they were angry because they were losing manufacturing jobs to Japanese auto plants. And so they beat him to death. And that case got a lot of attention, but nothing really happened in terms of more protection for the community because those two suspects never served any jail time. They paid a very light fee.

And again, I think a lot of people who look at the history point to that as an example of a missed opportunity to show that, you know, this is intolerable.

- You know, Weijia, over the past week, I've had a chance to talk to Asian-American Pacific Islander advocates. I know you have, too. They tell me that this is a galvanizing moment. And they also are saying that they firmly reject any notion that the motive in the Georgia shootings has to be one thing or the other. Can you talk about that, Weijia?

WEIJIA JIANG: Right. So the suspect says that he was trying to eliminate a temptation because he had a sexual addiction. And experts and activists say that points to this idea that Asian women are disposable. They are objects. Because they have been hyper sexualized, again, for quite some time in history. And as a result, that is a form of racism, according to experts and activists who study this very thoroughly.

- Weijia Jiang for us. Weijia, thank you. It's really good to see you.