Excerpted From: Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Stopping AAPI Hate: Covid-19 Related Racism and Discrimination Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, its Origins, Our History and Avenues for Redress, 26 Asian Pacific American Law Journal 75 (Spring, 2023) (196 Footnotes) (Full Document)


ManjushaPKulkarniOn February 4, 2020, a twelve-year-old child was physically attacked and verbally assaulted on a schoolyard in Los Angeles. Another middle schooler approached him, accused him of being a COVID-19 carrier and told him to go back to China. When the child responded that he was not Chinese, he was punched in the face and head twenty times. Within a week of the incident on the schoolyard, AAPI Equity Alliance, then known as Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), held a press conference with local officials to make clear that such attacks would not be tolerated. Joining me were Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (2nd District), Superintendent of Los Angeles County Office of Education Debra Duardo, Director of LA County's Commission on Human Relations Robin Toma and LA County Department of Public Health Director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Sharon Balter, as well as Herb Hatanaka, Executive Director of Special Service for Groups, and Peter Ng, Executive Director of Chinatown Service Center. addition to hosting this press conference, which received both local as well as national news coverage, AAPI Equity Alliance aided the family in working with Los Angeles Unified School District to meet their needs. AAPI Equity Alliance also created a rudimentary reporting form using Google Forms and distributed it to executive directors of its over forty member organizations. In ten days' time, twelve individuals reported incidents of anti-Asian hate that took place in Los Angeles County. These primarily involved acts of verbal harassment and accusations that Asian Americans were spreading COVID-19. Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) fielded requests from community members and local business owners who were growing anxious about a recent decline in business. Russell Jeung, Professor of Sociology of the Asian American Studies Center at San Francisco State University (SFSU), was compiling news reports from around the globe that included accounts of anti-Asian hate. a few days of the press conference, I was contacted by Russell. He and Cynthia Choi, Co-Executive Director of CAA, sought to ask California Attorney General Xavier Becerra if the California Department of Justice would investigate the growing number of incidents experienced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The letter, with ninety signatories, including several AAPI Equity Alliance member organizations, was sent on February 26, 2020. Within a few days, Becerra's office responded by saying that the Attorney General's office did not investigate such cases itself, but instead relied on local law enforcement to do so. February and early March 2020, additional incidents of anti-Asian hate began to surface in mainstream media and social media outlets. While awaiting the decision, Russell, Cynthia and I decided that action needed to be taken. Initially, we determined that a public education campaign would be appropriate. Soon, we realized that what was needed was a reporting form to gather information about community members' experiences, especially after the CA Attorney General indicated that his office would not collect the data. We began our work to create an online reporting site, modeled after the one by Southern Poverty Law Center. March 19, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate, a collaborative of AAPI Equity Alliance, CAA and SFSU, went live as a page on A3PCON's website. Within one week, over six hundred individuals completed the form, sharing their experience involving anti-Asian hate. Russell, Cynthia, and I were surprised at the extremely high number of reported experiences given COVID's only recent arrival on America's shores. On top of that, little to no publicity was done to promote the site, but somehow AAPI community members found it and were willing to share their stories.

We realized right away that we needed and wanted to make the form available in multiple Asian and Pacific Islander languages. Cynthia was able to have it translated into Simplified and Traditional Chinese, as well as Vietnamese given the linguistic abilities of CAA's staff. I reached out to executive directors and senior staff of our member organizations, most notably Erich Nakano and Grant Sunoo of Little Tokyo Service Center, Chancee Martorell of Thai Community Development Center, Shikha Bhatnagar of South Asian Network, Mariko Kahn of PacificAsian Counseling Services, Steve Kang of Koreatown Youth and Community Center to obtain translation in Japanese, Thai, Hindi, Punjabi, Khmer and Korean. Further, we received Tagalog and Hmong translation from a few volunteers in the community.

Within one month, Stop AAPI Hate received 1,497 incident reports. These reports came from 45 states. By May 2020, the issue was beginning to draw significant media attention as the number of incidents continued to climb. The escalation in hate incidents in some ways tracked the increase in cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Following the sharp rise in COVID contractions and deaths, the virus was beginning to have a profound impact. In New York and Los Angeles, the two largest metropolitan areas in the country, Mayors Bill DeBlasio and Eric Garcetti ordered residents to shelter-in-place in mid-March. Other major cities followed in quick succession and by the end of April, most Americans no longer left their homes for school or work and limited outside activities to infrequent trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, or big box retail. deaths from COVID-19 grew, racist rhetoric around COVID-19 also rose. The climate felt similar to the early 2000s and the rise of racial animosity in response to 9/11 and the SARS outbreak. President Trump began using the term “Chinese virus” on March 16, 2020. Within days, he began using additional terms, such as “Wuhan virus” and “Kung Flu.” Remarks tying the virus to China and by implication individuals of Chinese origin were not limited to the President. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, made similar comments. Additionally, a Republican Party memo connecting the virus explicitly to China and explaining how GOP candidates could use the language in their campaigns was leaked. May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by Milwaukee Officer Derek Chauvin. The video of the killing, taken by Darnella Frazier, showed in graphic detail the 8:43 minutes Chauvin's knee was placed on Floyd's neck, all while Floyd plead for his life. Within a few weeks, mass protests, across 140 cities, were held to demonstrate anger over not only his death, but over numerous acts of police violence against African American men. On January 26, 2021, six days after President Biden was sworn in as the United States' 46th president, he signed an executive memo denouncing hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The memorandum also issued guidance to the U.S. Department of Justice on how to better collect data and provide assistance in the reporting of anti-Asian hate incidents. in 2021, several high-profile attacks against Asian Americans began to take place. Notably, on January 28, 2021, Thai American, Vicha Ratanapakdee, was physically attacked while walking in his Oakland neighborhood of Anza Vista. Two days later, the 84-year-old died of the injuries. On March 16, 2021, six Asian women were among the eight shot to death at three Atlanta area salons. The following day, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said at the press conference that the alleged perpetrator, Richard Long, told him that he, Richard, was not racist, but simply having “a really bad day.” Baker made additional remarks that seemed to exonerate the perpetrator. Following the attack, FBI Director Christopher Wray indicated that the FBI did not believe the incident to be a hate crime. April 15, 2021, four Sikh Americans, employees of the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, were killed by their former co-worker, Brandon Scott Hole. Immediately, law enforcement officials deemed the incident not to be a hate crime. In early 2022, two young Asian American women were killed in New York City. On January 15, Michelle Alyssa Go, age forty, was pushed in front of a subway car in Manhattan. Just a month later, on February 13, Christina Yuna Lee was stabbed over 40 times by a man who followed her into her sixth-floor walkup. While investigations are ongoing, individuals in the AAPI community, especially women, continue to experience fear and anxiety in going through their days.

[. . .]

In 2023, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are living in fear, concerned about their safety not unlike AAPIs before them who experienced interpersonal hate incidents and institutional racism. Mainstream media coverage misrepresents the majority of hate incidents as hate crimes, and dangerous, often life-threatening ones at that; this framing suggests hate crimes prosecution offers the sole means of addressing such crimes. Successful criminal prosecution of most hate crimes appears elusive due to a variety of factors and fails to address most of what AAPIs are experiencing: non-violent hate incidents. As such, alternatives to hate crime prosecution such as civil rights prosecution and victim services need to be prioritized as they can provide redress and restitution. Solutions that invoke a public health, community-based approach along with public education campaigns and more robust civil rights enforcement offer a more comprehensive alternative to simple incarceration. Moving forward, such avenues--and the opportunity they provide to establish a permanent civil rights infrastructure--provide hope that hate directed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well as other marginalized communities comes to an end and that AAPIs alongside other Americans can experience safety, well-being and self-actualization.

Manjusha P. Kulkarni (Manju) is Executive Director of AAPI Equity Alliance, which serves and represents the 1.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County