Hate and Violence in America

On, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, a 19-year-old from Michigan was indicted by a Grand Jury for posting violent messages online threatening to kill people, and glorifying neo-Nazism, antisemitism, and past mass shooters.

This incident, reported by the DOJ hate crime website, is part of a nationwide initiative to report and document incidences of hate crime that have been steadily rising against ethnic communities and minorities. A recently released FBI report found 64.5% of 10,840 hate crime incidents in 2021, were based on race and ethnicity.

Asian Americans have faced the brunt of racist attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In recent months, front page news has featured a mass shooting at Asians in Atlanta, brutal attacks on Asian Americans in the subways and sidewalks of New York, and racist tirades against Indian Americans.

Fighting a pandemic of hate

Other minority communities aren’t immune from the pandemic of hate. The racist ideologies that perpetrated cultural genocides of Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans in the past, continue to feed targeted shootings of African Americans (recently at a Buffalo grocery store and a Charleston Church),  of Jewish worshippers at a synagogue, of LGBTQ patrons at a Colorado club, and countless attacks against Latino shopping centers and school.

The ongoing wave of hate incidents is forcing the nation to take a stance. In 2022, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced that all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices (USAOs) would host a nationwide initiative to combat unlawful acts of hate.

“No one should face violent threats because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or any other status,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten.

To combat the soaring rate of hate crimes, the DOJ is providing resources and helplines, urging victims to report and document instances of hate.

Ordeal of structural racism

A panel of speakers at a June 9 EMS briefing on coping with the ordeal of structural racism, agreed that documenting and validating the trauma was one key component in addressing hate.

The panel shared their perspectives and lived experiences of how their communities were addressing the relentless rise of racial and ethnic hate crimes. Speakers also suggested restorative justice, reparation programs,  and communities standing together in solidarity, were foundational to healing from the trauma perpetrated on them.

Violence gets absorbed not only in our bodies but also in our psyches, said Helen Zia, founder of the Vincent Chin Institute. When violent, anti-Asian assaults began in 2019, said Zia, Asian Americans posted on social media saying, “Wow, I never knew such a horrible thing could happen to my own children or to my own family. But that point about it is these are not new things at all.”

The Vincent Chin story

Zia was referring to a brutal hate crime in 1982, triggered by another pandemic of hate against people who look Japanese. While out celebrating his bachelor party, a young man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white auto workers with a baseball bat. They blamed him for the unemployment caused by the economic downturn in the Midwest. The anger against Japan, meant that in the U.S.,  “all Asians in America had a target on their heads,” said Zia.

A judge in Detroit only sentenced the men to probation. “So, these two killers actually never spent a single day in jail. But the trauma also triggered a great sense of inequality of injustice,” added Zia.

Given that the vast majority of Asians in America arrived here as immigrants or refugees fleeing violence. “The uncertainty of walking out your door and possibly being killed or having grandma and grandpa go for a walk and wondering whether they’re going to come home at all,” caused deep trauma, said Zia.

As a reporter, she felt she needed to document the incident and help the community have their voice heard. She became an active agent for change said Zia. Lily Chin, Vincent Chin’s mother, was willing to speak through her grief and “really became like a Mamie Till, for the Asian American community.”

It takes a village to heal

A new civil rights movement was born out of the moment said Zia, through ethnic media, which first reported the crime. Then the broader media brought more attention to the injustice perpetrated against the Chins.

Asian Americans also reached out to black and other ethnic communities to say “we stand together against hate, inequality and injustice,” said Zia. “What made a difference was a community coming together. By standing together, we can actually make a change.”

Linking incidents to history gives community context said Zia. They learn that these aren’t one-off crimes. It begins a healing process that makes a community stronger with new organizations and new generations of activists, working together against racism, injustice, against hate.”

Today the Vincent Chin Institute Zia co-founded offers a booklet about the history of the struggle for justice. It tells Vincent Chin’s story, recounts the genocide against indigenous people and the enslavement of people from Africa, and the fight for civil rights.

It’s translated into several languages – Chinese, Arabic, Korean Vietnamese,  and Bengali to reach as many communities as possible, said Zia, “because that’s where the healing will begin, and healing also means empowerment.”

Healing and empowerment

James Taylor, Professor of African American History at the University of San Francisco and a member of the SF Reparations Advisory Committee agreed that translations lead to greater empathy among communities. “That’s the kind of solidarity that’s needed to break down barriers by helping people understand in their own terms, what other groups have experienced.”

When Muslims in California were targeted after 9/11, said Taylor, the Japanese community was the first to reach out “ because they understood what it meant to be a targeted minority group.”

But when crimes against humanity are supported by the state, finding a resolution is more complicated. The historical enslavement of African Americans and cultural genocide against Native Americans had a devastating impact on both communities, which resonates even today.

Boarding schools for native Americans

Beth Wright, Staff Attorney for Native American Rights Fund (NARF), described her community’s attempts to heal from the cultural genocide against Native Americans. From the mid-17th to the early 20th centuries the United States established American Indian residential schools, to civilize and assimilate Native American children into European American culture.

“The state and the church were complicit in robbing the culture and identity of many indigenous people,” said Wright. When children were kidnapped and placed in boarding schools, they basically robbed many tribes of their cultures, languages there, and identity. Part of the Native American community healing is about restoring to the tribes, the identity, culture, and languages they lost.

Fixing the broken bone

“Africans came to this country completely naked with nothing. They were broken from day one,” stated Taylor. Through the Slavery Disclosure Ordinance (SDO), instituted under Gavin Newsom in 2006, he works to ensure with that every corporation in the city does a deep dive into their records to determine any ties to slavery and voluntarily put money in a fund. Reparations are key to healing and reconciliation, said Taylor. “Fixing the broken bone, you know, repair a people. And the truth is black people in America have always been broken.”

Reparations are what black people deserve as the natural outcome of reckoning with the past, said Taylor. “I think everything else is a waste of time, affirmative action, welfare.”

A rational society says mea culpa

Nestor Fantini is co-editor of Hispanic LA. As a 22-year-old Argentinian student, he was arrested and tortured for protesting state terrorism after the military staged a coup d’état in 1976. Fantini strongly supports reconciliation and restorative justice programs “because they are a humane alternative to a very dysfunctional criminal justice system” and a true alternative to punishment. One of the fundamental prerequisites to this process in a rational society, said Fantini, is that the offender has a responsibility to acknowledge the harm that he or she has caused against humanity.

Only by acknowledging the mistakes of the past, can we change and learn from things so we don’t repeat them.

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

Meera Kymal is the Managing Editor at India Currents and Founder/Producer at desicollective.media. She produces multi-platform content on the South Asian diaspora through the lens of social justice,...