Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.
Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.
The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors) amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”
At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.
“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,” declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.
STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).
According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.
In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.
The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.
Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.
Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.
Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.
Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.
“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.
Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’
“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.
AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.
“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”
So how is the nation addressing this issue?
“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.
At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.
“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”
Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division. “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”
Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”
Next month’s mid-term elections represent a special challenge for Indian American groups trying to get their constituents to the polls: Election Day falls in the middle of Diwali celebrations.
With this in mind, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) unveiled its #DharmaVotes campaign recently.
“The aim is to raise awareness in the Hindu American community about voter registration deadlines and to hopefully ensure robust voter participation,” said Samir Kalra, HAF’s managing director.
The print, television and social media effort’s goal is non-partisan “with the primary aim to increase voter turnout and democratic participation in its broadest sense,” said Kalra.
Indeed, the elections present an important opportunity for Indian Americans to encourage members to make their voices heard on a variety of issues.
“We’re not just a one-issue community,” said Aseem Chipalkatti, board president of South Asian Americans Together for (the state of) Washington (SAATWA). “Solving our nation’s healthcare and immigration dilemmas are important, but we also are worried about the increase of gun violence in our schools and women’s access to justice and reproductive care. SAATWA will endorse and support candidates – South Asian or not – who stand with our community on these issues.”
To that end, SAATWA recently held its first town hall style candidate’s forum in Issaquah, WA. While only 35 people showed up in person, Chipalkatti reports that 471 people tuned in to watch the action live on Facebook and over a 1,000 viewed replays of the debate online. In all, 3751 people have viewed all or part of the program.
Candidates answered questions on sustainable economic development, education, healthcare and immigration. SAATWA will use the candidates answers as the basis for making endorsements later this month.
Chipalkatti sees the turnout for the event, especially online, as clear evidence that “South Asian Americans in Washington State are ready to get engaged in the political process.”
Ankit Patel, SAATWA’s director of public policy and legislative affairs, said he hopes the town halls will make candidates realize that “people are paying attention and their participation in these events has wide ranging visibility beyond these forums — whether it’s the audience watching online or the conversations these attendees go on to have in the community.”
On a national level, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) has developed a voter guide detailing the policy positions of candidates in the 20 Congressional districts with the highest number of South East Asians in them. It also includes breakdowns on two additional races that feature a South Asian American candidate and a Congressperson who is a leader in the House of Representatives.
The race breakdowns show the Democratic and Republican candidates’ positions on immigration, civil rights, hate crimes, and the 2020 U.S. census. “These issues have been at the core of SAALT’s policy and advocacy strategy and have greatly impacted the South Asian American community both historically and in the last two years,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, SAALT’s Director of National Policy and Advocacy.
On SAALT’s online voter guide each of the four “big issues” facing the South Asian American community is broken down into bite-sized nuggets.
On immigration, SAALT reports, “With over 5 million South Asians in the United States, immigrant justice is a top priority. The community includes undocumented immigrants, family members and temporary workers on various visas, refugees and asylum-seekers, lawful permanent residents, and United States citizens. There are over 450,000 undocumented Indian-Americans alone.”
As for the upcoming 2020 US Census, SAALT warns that anything that threatens an accurate count of all people in the country “such as the proposed citizenship question on the forthcoming 2020 Census, must be avoided at all costs. Unnecessarily asking every household and every person in the country about their citizenship status in the current political environment will cause fear and a significant undercount of our communities.”
In regard to hate crimes, SAALT reports it “has documented a precipitous rise in hate violence. In the year following the Presidential election, SAALT catalogued 213 incidents of hate violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities — a 45 percent increase from the 2015-2016 pre-election period. It is increasingly clear we need to protect our communities from hate.”
The final hot-button issue for SAALT is civil rights, especially as they relate to Southeast Asian communities in the post 9-11 era. SAALT reports that since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the “communities have been unjustly targeted by government racial and religious profiling policies. More recently, government policies underscoring racial and religious profiling and surveillance have increasingly been aimed at our communities since the 2016 presidential election.”
Given the wide range of issues that face Indian-Americans in the current political climate, this Diwali season, make sure to VOTE!
Paul Kilduff is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California. He has written for the East Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Monthly and many other publications. He has also worked in radio as a reporter, host and producer and even finds time to draw cartoons.
Washington, DC (April 19, 2018) — With hate crimes motivated by religious bias on the rise, according to the latest FBI statistics, it’s vital that Congress pass legislation making threats against religious institutions a Federal crime and imposing criminal penalties for causing damage or destruction to religious property.
As such, the Hindu American Foundation strongly urges the Senate to pass S. 994, the Protecting Religiously-Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.
This legislation amends the existing Church Arson Prevention Act to cover bomb threats and other credible threats of violence to community religious institutions and community centers.
The House version of this legislation, HR 1730, was passed last December with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Expressing support for this legislation, HAF leaders say: “Religious communities are feeling increasingly insecure, given the recent uptick in hate motivated incidents and threats, including the recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish community institutions and cemeteries, the burning of a mosque in Texas, the vandalism against two Hindu temples in Washington, and the hate crime shooting of Hindu immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas.”
HAF has sent a letter urging passage of S. 994 to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, and to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, Committee of the Judiciary. Read the full letter here.
The bill is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On March 19, 2017, Shivani Aggarwal decided to make a Costco run to pick up supplies for her son’s birthday party planned for later that day. She had just about finished and was headed to the checkout counter when a cart slammed into her from behind. “Oh, my goodness! That hurts!” Aggarwal recalled saying as she crouched over her bruised and bleeding foot. “Geez, it couldn’t have hurt that much!” the woman shopper responded.
The woman shopper then peered at Aggarwal’s bruised foot and said dismissively, “You have a scrape! You need a band aid.” Aggarwal had been expecting the woman to apologize, so she reminded the lady that she had been hurt. At this lesson in civility, the woman became aggressive and told Aggarwal that she was making a big deal of the incident and to “go back to India.” She then wheeled her cart away calling Aggarwal a crazy person.
Leela, Preeti, and Maya were talking animatedly as they hiked up a trail at Rancho San Antonio County Park on March 10. Walking three abreast, they spied a man and a woman coming down from the other side so they moved closer to each other. But Maya still occupied a portion of the wrong side of the trail. The woman brushed past Maya to which Maya turned around and apologized as she walked on. The woman called out, “Wait a minute!” The three friends stopped and turned around. The woman came up to the three women and said fiercely, “I’m American, show me some respect!” “What do you mean?” Maya asked, sounding stunned. At that point the man, who hadn’t participated in the conversation, called his partner and they walked away.
On March 5, as he got out of his Mercedes at a farmer’s market parking lot, Jeet Bhatt (name changed) was questioned by two men in a van about the car he drives and why he doesn’t drive an American car. He was then told to “go back where you came from if you don’t like America.” When Bhatt called 911, one of the men taunted him saying, “Do you think I’m going to beat you up?”
Tip of the Iceberg
Since the election of Donald Trump in November, reports of such incidents have spiked nationwide, suggesting an emboldening of hate groups and ideologues following Trump’s win.
The SAALT figures mark a 34% increase from 2014, with 95% of the reported cases motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.
What is more troubling, however, is that official figures may not in fact accurately reflect the true scope of the problem.
Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. He recently published a study showing that police reports and FBI tracking regularly undercount hate crimes. Issues of language and culture barriers, as well as mistrust between communities and law enforcement can often dissuade victims of hate crimes from reporting. Also, lack of training can mean police officers do not accurately report incidents of hate or bias as such.
As a result, while the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2015 Crime Victimization Survey showed some 293,790 reported incidents of hate or bias, the FBI report for the same year contained only 6,573.
Moreover, in June 2016, the Associated Press reported that 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments had not reported a hate crime for 6 years in their jurisdictions. That amounts to 17% of all law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Who Are Hate Offenders?
Most hate offenders perceive a palpable threat to their livelihood, way of life, or life and hence commit acts of hate, whether verbal or physical. In all the cases cited above, the aggressors tended to be ordinary individuals unaffiliated with hard core hate groups.
Aggarwal described the woman with the cart as white, dressed in sweats, black hair in a ponytail, about medium height and probably in her 40s. The woman who confronted the three hikers was also white and in her sixties, according to one of the hikers. In Bhatt’s case, the men in the van appeared to be thrill seekers.
The profiles match what researchers say is typical for a majority of reported hate crimes.
“Hate crime assailants include thrill offenders with more shallow prejudices,” say researchers at California State University, San Bernardino. Most commit hate crimes for excitement and social engagement. Some, in reaction to events, like terrorist attacks. Very few are “hardcore hatemongers.”
But they also point to anecdotal reports that suggest a growing number of older white women—influenced by campaign rhetoric and the proliferation of fake media reports—are becoming part of the trend.
Hate Incidents Against Indians or Indian Americans reported in the last few months
On February 6, a home in Peyton, CO was vandalized with dog feces, eggs, racial slurs and hate messages. The homeowner, Saravanan, told a local television station that 10% of the messages were: “You brown or Indian shouldn’t be here.”
Adam Purinton, a white US Navy veteran, stands accused of killing thirty-two-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and wounding Alok Madasani, and Ian Grillot on February 22, 2017, in what is deemed a hate crime. Kuchibhotla and Madasani, both software engineers working at Rockwell Collins, were at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas watching a basketball game and enjoying their Jamesons when Purinton began heckling the Indian men asking them if their status was legal. Purinton was then asked to leave by the restaurant staff. But he reappeared a short while later armed with a gun and yelling “get out of my country!” before firing. Grillot, a 24-year-old white man, tried to intervene on behalf of the Indian men and was also shot. Purinton later admitted that he thought the Indian men were from Iran.
On February 26, single shots were fired at Star India restaurant and Asaab Eritrean restaurant on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, shattering glass and terrifying diners and staff.
Late evening on March 2, Harnish Patel, the owner of a convenience store in Lancaster county, S. Carolina, was killed in front of his home. The investigating authorities have not admitted to the incident being a hate crime.
On March 3, a masked man accosted Deep Rai, a Sikh citizen, in his driveway in Kent, Seattle. He scuffled with Rai and yelled, “Go back to your country,” before pulling out his gun and firing. Rai sustained injuries to his arm.
As more and more brown bodies are made the target of hate, the response will inevitably move from one of surprise at being assailed to more proactive steps. But just how do communities and individuals respond? And what exactly is a hate crime?
Hate Speech vs. Hate Crime
Writing nasty comments on websites, using ethnic slurs, exhorting people to leave America, distributing racist flyers, saying something that disparages ethnicities, religions, and races is categorized as hate speech. “They [offenders] can’t be punished, even though it can be very harmful to the victim and other people exposed,” says Phyllis Gerstenfeld, criminal justice professor at California State University, Stanislaus. Hate speech is typically protected by the First Amendment.
“Hate crime is a criminal act committed because of a victim’s group,” Gerstenfeld explains, but hate speech is “exhibiting hate without an underlying criminal act.” A hate crime is an addendum on a criminal act. The offender would have been punished anyway, but the hate motivation adds to that punishment. In other words, there is no hate crime unless there is first a crime.
Aggarwal’s and the hikers’ cases likely fall under the purview of hate speech, but Kuchibhotla’s was a hate crime. Purinton is standing trial for murder and additionally for a hate crime, since he yelled “get out of my country” and identified just the two Indian men for his violent outburst.
The line between hate speech and hate crime gets blurred in instances when there are threats made, Gerstenfeld says. “I don’t like you Indians” is hate speech. “I don’t like you Indians and I’m going to beat you up” could be a hate crime. So, in Bhatt’s case, if the men had specified that they were going to beat him up— instead of saying, “Do you think I’m going to beat you up?—that might have constituted a crime.
Taking Away American Jobs?
While a cloud of fear and anxiety has descended on a number of immigrant and ethnic minority communities alike in the months since the election, certain factors set Indian Americans (as well as other Asians) apart.
Indian Americans are visibly different from white and black America. These visible differences act as signals to a less informed or selectively informed populace. Indians are targeted for being illegal immigrants, Middle Easterners, Muslims and Arabs. Sikhs are too often mistakenly identified as terrorists because of their turbans.
In a study by the Sikh Coalition released in 2014, it was estimated that two-thirds of Sikh kids get bullied in school because of their visible artifacts of faith: their turbans.
But bias against Indian Americans is often contextualized by several factors beyond the lens of Islamophobia, including the general success of many in these communities; weaker assimilation patterns; race, color and religious differences; and H-1B abuse as related to appropriating “American” jobs.
Recently 60 Minutes did a segment cementing that narrative. One of those interviewed for the segment was Craig D’Angelo, who recently lost his job to an H-1B visa holder.
Despite the experience, D’Angelo expressed some understanding of the situation. “You don’t want to have any animosity towards them [Indian workers on H-1B visas] because they’re looking for a better way of life,” D’Angelo says at one point.
What the segment failed to cover was the long history of manipulation by outsourcing companies who’ve exploited their workers as well as the H-1B system. D’Angelo’s message of empathy also became lost in the larger framing of the story around Americans losing jobs to foreign nationals from India. The result, as seen in numerous instances, is an uptick in resentment meted out at the Indian American community.
One man reported on the experience of his friend’s wife, whom he described as “an east Indian in San Francisco [who] was dropping her daughter to school, [when] a white man came from behind and slapped her in the face and told her she is stealing American jobs and driving fancy cars and she needs to leave the country.”
In another instance, several Indian men along with their families were harassed in a South Lake Tahoe casino in November 2016. “A man approached them and asked them whether they were Indians working on work visas,” an eyewitness to the scene said. “He asked intrusive and offensive questions.”
Then there was the website , created and marketed by Steve Pusher, a 66-year-old computer programmer from Virginia. The site (which has since been taken down) displayed pictures and videos of South Asian individuals, their private residences and vehicles, so as to target those who were thought to be taking away American IT jobs. One video shows a public park in Columbus, Ohio filled with Indian American families. As the camera pans over kids riding bikes and grandparents sitting on benches, Pusher is heard providing commentary. “The number of people from foreign countries blows my mind out here. You see this whole area is all Indian, amazing. It’s an amazing number of jobs have been taken away from Americans. The Indian crowd has ravished the Midwest. It’s crazy.”
In its report, “Power, Pain, Potential,” SAALT pointed out that the Presidential race was rife with sweeping stereotypes and xenophobic characterizations. And this xenophobia seems to be arming and informing our citizens.
An Indian American woman dressed in Indian clothes was sitting at an outdoor patio of a local coffee shop. A group of well-dressed older men were chatting nearby. “[T]he talk turned to the Muslim ban and they started talking about what a great thing that was and how airtight the Donald’s case against them was. ‘I won’t mourn if they don’t make it,’ one of them said. ‘The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.’ Then all of them chuckled as if such a statement were hugely funny.” The Indian woman believed that the remark was made to “get a rise” out of her and she got up and moved indoors.
But in some cases, non-Muslim South Asians have also been culpable in advancing anti-Muslim rhetoric. “We applaud the Trump administration for taking this decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror,” said the Republican Hindu Coalition’s chairman, Shalabh Kumar, in a January press release following the announcement of the Muslim ban.
Rights advocates say that such divisiveness threatens the pluralism of America. And, by splitting the community into smaller ethnic categorizations, Kumar dilutes its power, potential and collective agency.
Speak Up, Speak Out
In Aggarwal’s case, she contacted a Costco manager, Tiffany, to report the incident. When the woman shopper caught sight of Aggarwal talking to Costco management, she reappeared with her cart challenging Aggarwal to call the cops for her racial comment.
“One member hit the other member with a cart and they were both saying ‘who’s going to apologize?’” was Tiffany’s reading of the situation, when I questioned her on the incident. “We did our best to de-escalate the situation,” Tiffany added. When I asked Tiffany whether Costco had processes in place to handle altercations, Tiffany told me that this was the first time in her experience that something like this had happened.
A Costco associate, an African American woman, accompanied Aggarwal to her car after the incident. Aggarwal recalls the associate saying, “Hey, I’m really sorry this happened. But this happens to me every day. Just grow a thick skin. Feel sorry for her.”
This advice didn’t feel right to Aggarwal. It’s about protecting her children, she said. “Recently, my 4-year-old boy came to me and asked me why we weren’t white.” Aggarwal doesn’t want her son to believe he’s less than others because he’s brown.
When she went home, Aggarwal and her husband filed a police report at the Mountain View police department. Aggarwal’s husband received an email from the police on March 27 stating that the case was closed because: “… the original incident involving the woman pushing the shopping cart into your wife was deemed an accident, it does not meet the definition of a hate crime. Regarding the woman’s reaction after being confronted by your wife, although inappropriate, also does not meet the statute.”
Bhatt, too, filed a police report, and believes that reporting such cases to the police is important, just so that they have a database of hate incidents.
An officer from the Mountain View police department confirmed that they have the means of tracking hate crimes when they are reported. “Obviously, in society there are many kinds of people and not all of them are going to be appropriate,” he said, “First, though, when confronted by a racially motivated person, ignore the person and walk away. Do not confront and challenge,” he cautioned. If you report the incident, the police can figure out if it meets the criteria of a hate crime and take appropriate action, he added.
Ro Khanna, Congressman from District 17, wrote in an email that “[t]here has to be a zero-tolerance policy from law enforcement.” He stated that he had sent letters to the Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General asking for resources to be devoted to address hate crimes.
Instances of hate against Indian Americans and other ethnic communities can no longer be dismissed as the minor fee of successful immigration. The statistics have begun to substantially populate the wrong side of the equation. There is a mounting sense of inadequacy within the community as to a coherent response to such incidents. It is important to note that while hate incidents are aimed at an individual or a group of individuals, the real target is the community.
If you’ve experienced a hate incident, come forward, tell your story, document it, report it to the police. At this crucial moment in our assimilative history, we must make sure that we participate in the national conversation on race and hatred and rally together as members of a larger immigrant community. One more death at the hands of a bigot is one too many.
Jaya Padmanabhan wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate Fellowship program. Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012 to 2016. She is the author of a collection of short stories called Transactions of Belonging.