Contagious Virus Stokes Fear, More Hate

John Yang is the executive director of Asian American Advancing Justice.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Not just the coronavirus but contagious hate is spreading around the country. People of color report an increase in hate crimes, especially towards Asian Americans, but also towards African Americans and Latinos. Many Black Lives Matter protestors have been victims of police violence. 

In addition, white supremacy groups are popping up all over, like in Michigan, where a militia group called Wolverine Watchman recently plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. During the last presidential debate Trump told a similar group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by”.

“The bottom line message is that words matter. Words matter in causing issues, causing fear and causing physical harm to the Asian American community, “ said John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ). 

“When the President uses words like “Chinese virus”, “Kung Flu”,  and most recently at the presidential debate “Chinese plague”…that has a ripple effect, a real direct effect on all Asian American not just Chinese Americans,” he said. 

After President Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, there was an 85% surge of anti-Asian American and conspiracy theory content on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League. ADL’s technology center analyzed twitter conversations in the 12 hours following the president’s announcement that he and Melania Trump had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

“The spread of xenophobic, racist or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories creates a dangerous political environment that could potentially result in harassment, discrimination, and even violence against targeted groups,” the ADL reported October 5. 

“Even if Joe Biden wins the election, these issues will not go away,” Yang said. He said tensions between the U.S and China will remain and the white violent extremism that has been unleashed in the last four years is not going to go away either.

The PEW Research Center reported about four in ten Americans say racist views about Asians are more common than before COVID-19. And Asian Americans are more likely to report negative experiences because of their race than other groups since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Thirty-nine percent of Asians PEW sampled said that people have acted more uncomfortable around them since the coronavirus outbreak. Thirty-eight percent of African Americans reported the same thing.

“There has been an increase in racial slurs or jokes, 31% for Asians…. and Asian Americans also feared someone will

Neil Ruiz’s new report is called “Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak”. Ruiz is an associate director of Global Migration and Demography Research at the Pew Research Center.

threaten or attack them much more compared to other ethnic groups,” said Neil Ruiz, associate director of Global Migration and Demography Research at the PEW Research Center. 

The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center in Los Angeles received 2,583 incident reports of anti-Asian discrimination since March 19, 2020. About half occurred in California but the center tracked assaults and verbal tirades against Asian Americans across the country. 

“Most of these are hate incidents and not hate crimes,” said Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (AP3CON).

She said women experience hate 2.3 times more than men and seniors make up 7% of their respondents. “These incidents are widespread. No part of the country is immune,” said Kulkarni. 

The national data show 71% of incidents involve verbal harassment, 9% were physical assaults, and 10% involve civil rights violations. Researchers broke down the data into types of discrimination. Name-calling topped the list, followed by shunning, assault, spitting or coughing, and online harassment.

Michael German used to work uncover for the FBI investigating terrorist threats. He is now at the Brennan Center For

Michael German was an undercover FBI agent who investigated rightwing extremism in the 1990s. He is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. German said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security recognize white supremacists as the number one domestic threat. During the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests this summer, members of racist hate groups committed crimes right out in the open in places like Portland, Oregon, and Lansing, Michigan.

Justice. The center has published three reports examining the inadequate law enforcement response to far right violence. 

In the 2018 report, researchers looked at the response to rightwing violence by federal law enforcement. In 2019, they focused on state and local responses. In August 2020, they looked at white supremacy inside law enforcement and the lack of a national strategy to deal with the problem. All three reports are available under research and reports here: https://www.brennancenter.org.

“Part of the problem is we don’t know if there is a rise or drop in white supremacist activity because nobody actually tracks white supremacist violence. The government doesn’t track white supreme violence and so there is no objective criteria in accounting for its rise or fall,” German said.

“We know only 12.6 % of law enforcement agencies actually acknowledge that hate crimes occur within their jurisdictions, so we’re talking about a very narrow subset of the actual crime problem,” German said. He said local authorities report a total of about 8,000 hate crimes a year.

However, the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victim survey lists about 230 thousand hate crimes each year. German said only half of those are reported to law enforcement agencies. He said there are 5 federal hate crime statues but the FBI only prosecutes about 25 cases a year.

“We have somewhere between 25 and 230,000 hate crimes each year. That’s a pretty wide gap,” German said. 

He said the FBI cannot tell you how many people white supremacists killed last year or the year before that or the year before that. 

“They can tell you how many bank robberies happened, how many involved guns, used a note given to the teller, if they used a getaway driver, but they can’t tell you how many people white supremacists killed because they don’t go out and collect that data.” 

However, both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security consider white supremacist violence the number one domestic threat. German said if a white supremacist kills someone, and the FBI considers it an act of domestic terrorism,  then they will do a very broad and thorough investigation. But if a white supremacist kills someone, and the FBI considers it a hate crime, that case drops to the bureau’s 5th priority. They treat it as a civil rights crime and try and find the motive for the killing. 

“But generally the FBI leaves them to local agencies to investigate, “ German said. He said Justice Department policy defers hate crimes to state and local authorities for prosecution. And, as he noted, most law enforcement agencies don’t even acknowledge hate crimes happen in their territory.

“So it could disappear into the ether,” German said.

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