Asian Americans have been verbally and physically attacked, shunned during pandemic, study shows

Anh Do
·5 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - Tracy Wong, 19, makes a statement while attending a,"Rally Against Anti-Asian Hate Crimes & Racism," to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence at Los Angeles State Historic Park on February 20, 2021. The rally was organized in part in response to last month's fatal assault of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, in San Francisco. The rally included hate crime survivors and local Asian elder community members. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A rally against anti-Asian violence at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Feb. 20. The rally was organized partly in response to the fatal assault of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, in San Francisco. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Since coronavirus shutdowns began last March, thousands of Asian Americans have faced racist verbal and physical attacks or have been shunned by others, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report by Stop AAPI Hate documents 3,795 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans from March to February, noting that the number is likely a fraction of the attacks that occurred, because many were not reported to the group.

On Tuesday, eight people, including six Asian women, were shot to death at massage parlors in the Atlanta area.

Authorities said Wednesday that the attacks “did not appear to be” motivated by race. The alleged shooter told investigators that he had a “sexual addiction” and wanted to get rid of the temptation that the establishments represented.

But rights groups stressed that the broader context of recent hate crimes and harassment of Asian Americans should not be ignored.

Stop AAPI Hate formed last March in response to attacks related to the perception that Asians were responsible for the coronavirus because of its origins in Wuhan, China. The group did not collect data in previous years to show whether attacks against Asians have increased during the pandemic.

About 68% of the anti-Asian attacks documented in the study were verbal harassment, 21% were shunning and 11% were physical assaults.

About 9% of the attacks were civil rights violations such as workplace discrimination or being refused service at a business. Nearly 7% of the attacks were online harassment.

Most of the incidents occurred at businesses or on public streets.

More than two-thirds of the attacks in the study were reported by women.

More than 40% of the attacks were reported by Chinese Americans, 15% by Korean Americans and 8% by Filipino Americans.

“We ask policymakers at the local, state and national level to partner with us on implementing community-based solutions that will help ensure Asian Americans have equal rights and access to opportunities," said Manjusha Kulkarni, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.

The report includes descriptions of the incidents provided by victims.

At a subway station in Annandale, Va., an Asian American woman was on an escalator when a man repeatedly punched her in the back and followed her, fake-coughing and shouting "Chinese b—."

In an example of shunning, a ride-hailing driver in Las Vegas said to an Asian American customer, "Another Asian riding with me today, I hope you don't have any COVID," while leaning away from the client. The driver also told the person not to request any more rides from anybody.

In August, Hong Lee was waiting for tacos at a restaurant in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles when a stranger approached her, handed her his business card and asked her to lunch.

She explained that she was married and declined.

Then, she said in an interview with The Times, "the man started screaming at me, telling me to go back to Asia, followed by two minutes of calling me every single derogatory word you could imagine."

Lee, a Vietnamese American nonprofit worker in her mid-30s, remembered feeling cornered by the man and "asking for help, but no one stepped up."

Finally, an employee asked the man to move to the other side of the room. He collected his food and walked out, Lee said.

A police officer refused to take an incident report because "he said, 'This happens all the time and there's nothing I can do,'" she recalled. "He said there's no crime here."

Lee, a mother of two, talked with her Korean American husband about whether to publicize what happened to her. She decided to encourage others "not to take this quietly."

Her video of the incident, which she posted on Instagram and Facebook, went viral. She now volunteers as an ambassador for Los Angeles County's "L.A. vs. Hate" campaign, connecting victims to social services and mental health resources.

She also reported the incident to Stop AAPI Hate.

"It's in our culture just to keep our heads down, and we don't want to talk about things that humiliate us," she said. "But why do we need to be passive?"

Violent attacks against Asian senior citizens in the Bay Area and New York City have intensified the public outcry against anti-Asian hate crimes, though it is unclear whether many of those incidents were racially motivated.

“We need to reckon with both the historical and ongoing impact that racism, hate and violence are having on our community, especially on women, youth and seniors, who are particularly vulnerable,” said Cynthia Choi, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.

Choi and others appealed to the public to report hate attacks.

Russell Jeung, a Stop AAPI Hate co-founder and professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, referred to former President Trump's use of the terms "kung flu" and "China virus."

Hatred against Asian Americans should not "be a legacy of COVID-19 or the last presidential administration," Jeung said.

About 4 in 10 Asian Americans said people have acted uncomfortable around them because of their race since the pandemic started, and 31% said they have been subjected to racial slurs or jokes, according to a Pew Research Center study.

In Los Angeles, hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders surged in 2020, reflecting a national trend. Advocates and law enforcement say many more incidents occur than are reported.

After Lee publicized her case, five other women came forward describing a similar attacker, who is now under investigation.

"There's no sense in staying silent," Lee said. "No one should stay fearful."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.