By Eric Khodorenko
Graphic By Jane Wilson
Another pandemic has been ushered in by COVID-19: racism. Hate crimes against the Asian community are on the rise and many believe the use of the phrase “the China virus” and “the Wuhan virus” by Donald Trump contributed. It’s becoming evident that using these sorts of terms scapegoat the virus on Chinese and Asian people. There has been a stark increase in violence and hate crimes against the Asian community. According to an organization dedicated to stopping hate crimes against Asian Americans, called Stop AAPI Hate, there has been a 1900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes since the beginning of the pandemic with 2,808 accounts of anti-Asian hate in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The more startling fact is that 1,226 of those incidents took place in California, and 708 were in the Bay Area alone. However, it is possible that this number is high because of California’s high population and concentration of Asian American communities. Despite population, the numbers are hard to ignore.
Las Lomas sophomore Sydney Tatsumi said, “People just want something or someone to blame their issues on, and Asians seem like the perfect scapegoat.” Las Lomas junior and Co-president of the Las Lomas Asian Student Union had similar thoughts: “A lot of people are angry with how their life has been altered due to coronavirus. The frustration is understandable, but instead of dealing with it, it manifests into hostility and violence. It’s clear that Asians are being scapegoated. Innocent individuals who have nothing to do with the virus, especially the elderly, are targeted.”
Notable cases of violent hate crime have included the shoving of an anonymous 91-year-old man in Oakland’s Chinatown in broad daylight for no apparent reason according to ABC 7 News. The elderly man survived the incident with minor injuries. Then, in late January, another elderly Asian man, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, was physically charged and pushed to the ground by 19-year-old Antoine Watson, who is now in jail awaiting trial; this was also in broad daylight without any noticeable provocation. The family of Mr. Ratanapakdee say they believe it was racially motivated. Due to this unwarranted violence in the Bay Area, Asian locals are beginning to shy away from walking outside alone. Las Lomas Mandarin teacher Ms. Tu said, “Some of my friends said they feel uncomfortable going to Oakland Chinatown now.” In Atlanta, Georgia, a gunman opened fire in two separate spas killing eight people, six of which are Asian. Many have declared this atrocity a hate crime but the FBI director Christopher Wray said in an interview with NPR, “at the moment it does not appear the attack was racially motivated.”
This new increase in racially motivated violence comes at a time when Oakland’s police budget is threatened with deep cuts. After a loss in revenue due to the pandemic, Bay Area cities are in deep deficits with San Francisco having a $653 million deficit due within the next two years. The pandemic has crippled the Bay Area’s financial resources and the Oakland police department budget could be reduced amidst calls for even deeper cuts to the police budget: up to $150 million in addition to the $15 million cut approved in the summer. Carl Chan, the head of Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in Oakland told KQED, “I ask all of our Seniors in Chinatown and basically all of our businesses: Do you want to see police in this community?… So far, I haven’t heard anyone say no.”
Asian American lawmakers have recently reintroduced a hate crime bill that would allocate an official from the Department of Justice with their sole purpose being to prioritize hate crimes that are reported. Co-President of the Las Lomas Asian Student Union Anissa Soungpanya said, “I believe that funding towards collecting information on these crimes through the forms of reporting systems and more are tremendously important in making sure these hate crimes are reported and those responsible are prosecuted.” Businesses in places like Chinatown or Japantown are also suffering and they have been hit especially hard by the pandemic as people are discouraged from eating Asian cuisine, Co-president of ASU Jasmine Pham said, “The situation in Japantown is extremely disheartening. Many businesses that have been there for decades, have permanently closed, and rent prices have soared.”
The racism against Asians is a clear problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Joe Biden in a primetime address has come out to condemn the violence. Jasmine Pham added and said, “Students should definitely be educated about racism towards Asian people, especially now, when there is a shifting narrative on Asians. Las Lomas students need to be educated on the way they contribute to normalized racism.” The effort to minimize violence and racism against Asian people is going to be a long journey, but there is hope as legislation is introduced and awareness about the problem rises.