We were alarmed to learn of the murders on Tuesday of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, at the hands of a lone gunman. While there are mixed reports about whether the attacks were racially or gender-motivated, they come at a time when crimes against Asian Americans are rising.
From March through February, according to a report issued by the group Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (“AAPI”) Hate there have been documented 3,795 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans. 68% of these attacks were verbal, 21% were shunning and 11% were physical assaults. It should come as no surprise that most observers believe there have in fact been far more acts of violence than recorded by Stop AAPI Hate. More information is available in this article from the Los Angeles Times.
These current outrageous acts are not without historical precedent. Many in our Asian American communities recall that their families were subjected to the Chinese Exclusion Act and to the Internment of Japanese Americans.
During World War II there were numerous stories of the impact of the Japanese American Internment. None more poignant than the statement of Kiyo Sato, from Kiyo's Story: A Japanese-American Family's Quest for the American Dream.
"We have no one to go to for help. Not even a church. Anything goes, now that President Roosevelt signed the Order to get rid of us. How can he do this to his own citizens? No lawyer has the courage to defend us. Caucasian friends stay away for fear of being labeled "Jap lovers." There is not a more lonely feeling than to be banished by my own country. There is no place to go [emphasis added]."
Today, we must speak out against this violence and hate, irrespective of which group is the target. We must not remain silent when others in our community are subjected to verbal assaults, shunning, and physical assaults. We have the opportunity to support the bystander intervention training offered by Hollaback, a website that works with Asian Americans Advancing Justice ("AAJC") to address harassment against Asian Americans. In addition, there are emerging grassroots crowdfunding sites which raise funds for specific anti-xenophobic causes. Support for these grassroots organizations is vital.
It is beyond cavil that the pandemic and resulting economic hardship have increased pressure we all feel. The acrimonious debate of political issues has also created an atmosphere where “fighting words” are tolerated and violence all too often becomes the norm. However, we must not fail to insist on the aggressive prosecution of hate crimes. Now, more than ever, we still need the Rule of Law.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us to ensure that there is always a place to go for Kiyo and others like her who are subjected to hatred and prejudice.
Benjamin F. Wilson