“It’s been a really rough year. It’s been a rough year for all of us in trying to survive this pandemic ... But it’s also been an especially difficult year for Asian Americans,” state Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) said from a makeshift podium in the Bay Terrace shopping center March 26.
Dozens of ralliers gathered in the parking lot last Friday afternoon wielding posters of support for Asian Americans, who have been the subject of increasing prejudice over the past year. It was just one of many hate crime-protests to have taken place in 2021, most of which were packed into the last two weeks, spurred by the Atlanta massacre that left eight people, six of whom were Asian, dead.
Liu recalled growing up in the area when a gang attacked a young Asian American in the neighborhood. He thought the days of discrimination were long behind him, he said, until the recent onslaught of violence, vandalism and harassment targeting Asians.
Just three days after the rally, a video surfaced of a man repeatedly kicking an 65-year-old Asian woman to the ground in Midtown Manhattan and allegedly told her, “you don’t belong here.” Taken from inside a building, the surveillance footage shows three doormen close the door rather than help the woman or stop the attack. Gov. Cuomo directed the state Police Hate Crimes Task Force to aid the NYPD in finding the perpetrator, who was arrested March 30, and the building owner supposedly suspended the doormen pending an investigation.
“We have to stay united,” Liu said at the rally. “What we need is the community to send a very strong message that we’re not going to allow any attacks on our Asian brothers and sisters — that if you attack an Asian American, you’re attacking me. You’re attacking all of us.”
Overall hate crimes dropped by 38 percent in New York City between 2019 and 2020, but hate crimes targeting Asian Americans surged 833 percent, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
The discrimination is nationwide as well. The center found that during the same time frame, anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 145 percent across the country while overall hate crimes dropped 6 percent. The spikes began in March and April of last year as Covid-19 cases also rose.
“Racism exists in the very fabric of our country in modern minority stereotypes, in micro aggression of everyday life, in laws and legislation that fail to acknowledge the victims of hate crimes and policies that systematically exclude Asian Americans,” said Helen Hung of Korean American Community Services.
There are three congressional bills being pushed that aim to crack down on attacks and better assist victims of hate crimes:
• Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act would provide greater law enforcement response and federal oversight of cases;
• Hate Crimes Commission Act would establish a federal Commission on Hate Crimes to study and make recommendations on the prevention of hate crimes; and
• The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would redefine domestic terrorism to connect it with hate crimes.
President Biden also introduced several measures Tuesday in response to rising anti-Asian violence, including re-establishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; providing $49.5 million to help Asian-American survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; establishing a Department of Justice cross-agency initiative to address anti-Asian violence; and more.
Everyday people can help, Hung said, by stepping up and speaking out.
“We have been silenced so long,” she said. “For so long, silence [has been] a symbol of strength, fortitude, our salute to hurt, to endure. But for now, silence is not strength. It is dangerous. It’s very, very dangerous. Complacency [is] an accomplice to injustice. Share your voice and speak out together."