During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans — particularly East Asian Americans — rose by 73 percent. The onslaught of anti-Asian sentiment highlighted by the media not only spurred anxiety among Asian American communities, but also several discussions about issues faced by many Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), such as mental health stigmatization and being first generation immigrants. To deal with the constant threat of violence, Asian American communities turned to public officials for legislative action and to the media to spread awareness. In response, the New York Police Department (NYPD) created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force in August 2020 — the first of its kind dedicated to investigating hate crimes against a specific race. In March 2021, the Asian Hate Crime Task Force enacted a new volunteer-based program that placed undercover patrols in Chinatown. Many have also taken individual initiative, turning to social media to share graphic images and videos of attacks against Asian Americans and asking for attention to the matter. These efforts made by the NYPD and social media users have proven to be inadequate in changing the statistics as well as relieving communal uneasiness. In fact, according to NYPD statistics reported by The New York Times, Asian hate crimes increased by 400 percent in 2021 “compared with the same time frame in 2020.” Meanwhile, the NYPD’s undercover unit has been inactive since May 2021. The Stop AAPI Hate movement and Asian American communities now face a serious need to reassess their strategies and goals.
It’s no wonder that further policing and circulation of violent videos on social media have had little material results. As they are reactive in nature, they hardly address the systemic issues surrounding the rise in hate crimes — racism, mental illness, performative activism, media sensationalization and consumption, etc. These systemic issues within the AAPI community manifest in other communities of color in both similar and different ways. Thus, any possibility of successfully resolving these issues, especially racism, must emphasize building relationships between various communities of color. Ultimately, the Stop AAPI Hate movement should orient itself toward long-term solidarity between other communities of color by ending reliance on the NYPD to mitigate racism.
Amid the Stop AAPI Hate movement, the Black Lives Matter movement also resurged in mainstream media following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in May 2020. George Floyd’s death drew attention to other Black victims of police brutality, such as Breonna Taylor, and created momentum for international protests against police brutality, which were, ironically, often met with police aggression. The statistics support the matter — unarmed Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be shot by police than their unarmed, white counterparts, suggesting significant police bias. More so than the eminence of police brutality, the simultaneous movements during the pandemic and law enforcement’s responses to them indicates that policing does not work for everyone. The differences in the treatment of Asian Americans and Black Americans by law enforcement — the offer of protection for one group and entrenchment of fear for another — show that a carceral state does not guarantee safety for all.
The formation of the Asian Hate Crime Task Force is influenced by the model minority myth, which determines that all Asian Americans — more so East and South Asians — are hardworking, family-oriented and passive. The myth has historically been used to blame other communities of color for their lack of socioeconomic progress and acts as a racial wedge between Asian and Black Americans. While the myth’s dividing tendencies typically manifest in education and welfare debates, the formation of the Asian Hate Crime Task Force shows that policing is another racially divided sector. More specifically, the myth justifies proximity to whiteness — and while Asian Americans are by all means people of color and are not free from racial violence, they are undoubtedly granted relative privilege in treatment of police. Accepting and demanding further policing as a solution to the rise in hate crimes despite policing being a weapon against other communities perpetuates these racial hierarchies, an effect which is contradictory to the movement. This is especially important because the rise in Asian hate crimes is not an isolated period of racism simply triggered by the pandemic but rather a trend indicative of racism against all people of color that has always been present outside of mainstream media. The bottom line is that policing does not save Asian Americans from racism.
On an individual level, social media has been used to bolster the movement by spreading awareness. For one, videos of George Floyd’s death circulating social media drew national attention to the pattern of wrongdoings of the perpetrators: the police. In the case of Asian hate crimes, it’s important to be careful of who the perpetrators are in videos and, thus, what narrative they are promoting as they are shared online. A report conducted in 2015 found that Black people are overrepresented in the media for crimes. In the case of assaults, Black people were arrested in 49 percent of cases and identified as suspects in 72 percent of news stories about assault. Meanwhile, 75 percent of perpetrators of violent Asian hate crimes are white.
The overrepresentation of Black offenders in the media fuel negative stereotypes of Black people. Although media biases cannot be solved on an individual level, the information that is circulated and consumed on social media and bias within newfound fear can be. One video that found its way around social media in March showed a Black man, Brandon Elliot, kicking and stomping a 65-year-old Filipina American woman, Vilma Kari, as he yelled “You don’t belong here.” Elliot was homeless, temporarily residing in a nearby hotel that served as a shelter during the pandemic. He was also on lifetime parole after he murdered his mother in 2002, and he was released from prison early in 2019. The problem with the media’s inaccurate portrayal of the perpetrators of hate crimes is especially apparent in this video. It gives no context for Elliot’s aggression — homelessness, mental illness, past trauma, lack of rehabilitative programs in prison, etc. — and instead meticulously furthers the image of a dangerous Black man. While anti-Asian racism or violence is not at all justified by Elliot’s story, the issue is reduced to a binary of Asian Americans versus Black Americans as opposed to communities of color versus the oppressive systems at play.
The pandemic has inspired discourse on Asian Americans’ perpetual foreignness, but conversations about their proximity to whiteness and arbitrary position as the “model minority” has been lacking in determining the goals of the Stop AAPI Hate movement. The failures of the Asian Hate Crime Task Force compared to protests against police brutality and videos that emphasize the vulnerability of Asian Americans prove that the movement needs to be future-oriented. More specifically, the movement’s success is reliant on alliance-building strategies that do not necessitate the demonization of Black people, but rather rectify the relative privilege of AAPI communities that has historically sought to divide communities of color. Black and Asian Americans are racialized in different ways, whether that be through systematic dehumanization or a perception of the perpetual foreigner, but racializing does not occur in a vacuum without reference to each other. Several critics have spoken out against further policing as a solution, but law enforcement appears to be the only option given the imminent threat of violence.
There are other alternatives. Volunteer-based groups, such as Main Street Patrol, offer protection for Asian Americans in Flushing, an Asian-majority neighborhood, by using bystander intervention to safeguard the neighborhood. In addition to volunteering, there are several avenues the movement can take. These include investing in education programs and making mental health resources more accessible, both of which work as a preventative measure in hate crimes and delegitimization of the media’s portrayal of Black people. Moving forward, to end anti-Asian hate crimes in the long-term, the Stop AAPI Hate movement and its surrounding conversations need to interrogate anti-Blackness within possible solutions, such as policing and the latent anti-Blackness in media, and foster solidarity with other communities of color.
Julie Ha is a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law.