Reports of physical attacks and harassment of Asian Americans show no signs of slowing down, despite rapidly subsiding fears about the COVID-19 pandemic that pundits identified as a root cause of an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Experts say the number of incidents isn’t likely to go down anytime soon. It may never go back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The decline always takes longer than the uptick,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The center tracks data kept by law enforcement agencies around the country about reported hate crimes.
The spike in reported anti-Asian incidents that began last year, which range from actual hate crimes to harassment or name-calling, took on political significance when the left blamed then-President Trump for inflaming anti-Asian sentiment through the use of phrases like “Kung Flu” to describing COVID-19 as originating in China. The fact that the anti-Asian incidents have increased even after Mr. Trump has left office calls into question how much he was to blame.
At least thus far, the number of reports of incidents has continued to go up.
Mr. Levin said that Mr. Trump was not the cause of the incidents against Asians. He also was not ready to completely exonerate the former president.
“Our day-by-day breakdowns, in this case, show hate crimes started rising before the president’s use of stigmatizing language,” he said.
However, there was a jump in the reports after Mr. Trump began using terms like “China virus” and when hospitalizations for COVID-19 began to rise, according to the center’s data.
Mr. Levin worried that while the number of incidents might come down, some level of hate crime activity will continue because the anti-Asian sentiment won’t simply go away overnight, particularly among those who would attack or shout insults at people based on ethnicity.
New York City’s human rights commission said this week that as of April 30, 122 incidents against Asian Americans have been reported to the agency this year, a period that includes a decline of coronavirus cases and the beginning of the relaxation of restrictions on restaurants and sports stadiums in the city. That number of reported anti-Asian incidents is on pace to far exceed the 200 reported last year and the mere 30 in 2019.
Ironically, a return to normalcy could increase incidents against Asian Americans as more people are out and about and coming into contact with each other, said Carmelyn P. Malalis, chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
“We’re going to see the numbers tip up again as there’s more reopening and people start congregating in parks and on the street,” Ms. Malalis said.
Though restrictions are easing around the country, people are still feeling resentment about the economic pain caused by the pandemic, and President Biden has rekindled speculation about China’s role in the origin of COVID-19.
Mr. Biden this week announced an investigation by the U.S. intelligence community into the pandemic’s origins in China, either from animal-to-human transfer or from a laboratory leak.
He gave a 90-day deadline to complete the investigation and promised to make the findings public.
China insists that it is not the source of the novel coronavirus and has pressed the World Health Organization to look at other countries.
It remains unclear if any of this impacts hate crimes in the U.S. Whatever the cause, more hate incidents are being reported.
According to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies in 24 major municipalities and counties in the first three months of this year increased 190% — or by nearly four times — compared to the same period in 2020.
The jump is even sharper than the one seen last year. Reported incidents increased by 146% during all of 2020 versus 2019.
There were 110 hate crimes reported to authorities in the first quarter of this year in the cities vs.38 during the same period last year.
The data, through March, predates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement two weeks ago that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks anymore in most settings. But it does show that incidents have continued to increase even during a time when more people were getting vaccinated and elected officials, including Mr. Biden, condemned anti-Asian incidents.
“This is unacceptable, and it’s un-American,” Mr. Biden said a few days after taking office. He also signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to look for xenophobic references in policies, memoranda and public guidelines issued during the Trump administration and remove them.
Unlike complaints to the New York commission, which includes incidents like giving Asians dirty looks that are not considered crimes, the center only examines the number of complaints to law enforcement agencies.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, of the 6,603 hate incidents reported to the group between March 19, 2020, and March 31, 2021, more than half — 3,795 — occurred in March 2021.
Nearly two-thirds of the incidents reported involved verbal harassment, which is not a hate crime. But 12.6% involved some type of physical assault.
About 60% of the reported incidents occurred in public areas like streets and parks or at businesses.
A spokeswoman and leaders of the group did not respond to inquiries from The Washington Times.
A poll by the Center for Public Integrity and the market research firm Ipsos in April 2020 showed that many Americans blamed Asian Americans for the coronavirus or were uncomfortable being around them.
The poll also asked respondents about their attitudes toward being around others during the pandemic. An overwhelming majority — 91% — said they would feel nervous being around someone who was sneezing, coughing or looking sick. About 25% said they were uncomfortable being near an Asian.
The increase in hate crimes has followed a familiar pattern in which long-standing biases and stereotypes are already present and then flare up after an event that causes fear.
Hate crimes against Muslims, for instance, rose after the 2015 terrorist attack in which a Palestinian-born couple killed 14 people and injured 22 others when they opened fire on a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
Hate crime against Latinos rose between 2006 and 2010 at a time when illegal border crossings rose and Americans were fearful for their jobs amid the Great Recession. But the incidents dropped in 2011 when the number of illegal immigrants dropped and the economy improved, according to studies.
“Different groups get corralled into the spotlight of conspiracy theories and bigotry,” said Mr. Levin.
He didn’t expect the public condemnation of hate from Democrats such as Mr. Biden or Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to change the minds of people with deep-seated bigotry.
“There are people who have formulated judgments about Asian people who do not particularly hold President Biden or Mitch McConnell in high regard,” Mr. Levin said.