The simmering tension of “Anti-Asian Racism” and “Hate Crimes Against Asians” seems to have finally boiled over, manifesting itself in the tragic death of eight individuals — six who are of Asian descent — in Atlanta, GA. This of course follows a series of other high-profile incidents involving Asian Americans, including the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee and Jeremy Lin, who was called “coronavirus” during a D-League basketball game. Shortly after this incident, my father messaged me on social media to be mindful of where I’m going and to be safe. And while we mourn with families of the eight victims and wait for justice to be delivered, many will recall that anti-Asian sentiment and “hate crimes” seemed to hit a fever pitch around March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began. In response, Chinese For Affirmative Action (CAA), Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), Stop AAPI Hate, and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies launched a reporting center to track these incidents.
The center began recording data on March 19, 2020. Since that time, a series of reports have been released. The most recent, the 2020–2021 National Report Release, shows that 70% of “hate incidents” involve verbal harassment or name-calling, followed by “shunning” — the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans — at 20.5%, and physical assault accounting for 11%. It’s also been shared by news outlets and individuals that nearly 3,800 hate incidents have been reported between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021.
At face value, 3,800 incidents paint a grim picture for Asian Americans and seems to confirm the notion of a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. But with any data collection, the total number of cases will always increase; what is important is the frequency at which these incidents occur or are reported. And after compiling and examining the data available in all national reports, I found an interesting pattern. I discovered that the frequency of reports actually decreased with each reporting period, so much so that the first eight weeks accounted for 48% of all reported incidents. To put that into perspective, the 2020–2021 report collected data for 49 weeks.
When you transpose the two lines on the same graph, you see an increase of total reported cases over 49 weeks (because people are reporting). But since week one, our baseline data, there is a continuous and precipitous drop in reporting rates. This would seem to suggest that there isn’t necessarily a “surge”.
So why share this? And why now?
This is not an effort to diminish the discrimination against Asian Americans or to say it doesn’t exist — the numbers clearly show that it does. All that said, it is a conscious effort to pump the brakes on the rhetoric and calm the hypervigilance being stoked in our Asian community. It is also an effort to bring clarity to the data and a possible next step. That next step would be to examine where these incidents are concentrated, a point I have yet to see discussed.
You may recall a video of a 68-year Asian man that went viral around this same time last year. The elderly man, who was collecting cans, was harassed and physically accosted by a couple of black individuals. This occurred in San Francisco. The DA’s office did not charge the 20-year-old criminal in that incident. Instead, they sought a “restorative justice” resolution. Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was killed in January, also lived in San Francisco. Pak Ho, killed just a few days ago, lived in Oakland, CA. The murderer, in this case, was a black man and a repeat felon. The truth is, California is the epicenter of this “crisis.”
While these three cases by themselves don’t prove that The Golden State is the epicenter of this crisis, being responsible for 44.6% of all 3795 incidents reported in the AAPI Hate 2020–2021 report should. To put that number into perspective, the same report identifies 18 states with the most incidents. California ranks number one and has more cases than all the other 17 states combined. The Golden State has nearly three times more incidents than the second state, New York with 517 cases. And speaking of New York, New York has more cases than the next six states combined. California and New York account for nearly 60% of all hate incidents.
If we want actionable steps to address what’s happening to Asian Americans, we need to start by examining the Coasts and what’s happening there. We need to examine those local governments, law enforcement practices, and consider any other possible local factors contributing to these crimes. It will require us to dig into the data and trends ourselves. And if we really want an honest conversation, we should also discuss the profile of individuals who perpetuate crimes against Asian Americans, because it’s just not “white” individuals. Simply participating in the most current social media trend to “stand up against racism” or regurgitating vague narratives that don’t present any actual solution other than stir up racial animosity is to miss what actually matters.