California saw staggering rise in hate crimes against Asians in 2020
Hate crimes against Asians in California more than doubled in 2020, as part of an overall 31% surge in hate-based crimes, according to a pair of new reports by California’s attorney general.
The increase in anti-Asian crimes was fueled by rhetoric, including that of Donald Trump, blaming Asian communities for the spread of Covid-19 in the United States, the reports said.
“For too many, 2020 wasn’t just about a deadly virus, it was about an epidemic of hate,” said the attorney general, Rob Bonta. “The facts here are clear: there was a surge in anti-Asian violence correlated with the words of leaders who sought to divide us when we were at our most vulnerable.”
While the reports highlighted the stunning increase in often-overlooked violence against Asians, hate crimes against Black people in California increased by 87% as well, and made up the largest number of events counted in the report – 456 of the total 1,330 hate crimes reported in 2020. The number of anti-Asian crimes jumped from 43 in 2019 to 89 in 2020 – a total increase of 107%.
Hate crimes against transgender people in the state also rose from 29 in 2019 to 54 in 2020, the reports said, while the number of crimes based on religious bias fell.
Overall, the most common kind of anti-Asian hate crime reported was violent crime, with 72 reports in 2020, up from 32 in 2019. Simple assault and intimidation were the most common charges. Property crimes against Asians, a category including arson, burglary, destruction, damage, and vandalism, increased from 11 to 17.
The new data quantifies the mounting reports of attacks against Asian Americans, including, in the Bay Area in just the past few months, an assault that left a 76-year-old Asian American grandmother with two black eyes, the death of 75-year-old man after a robbery in Oakland, and the recent “unprovoked” stabbing of a 94-year-old San Francisco woman.
Carl Chan, the president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, praised Bonta’s office for also releasing updated brochures in 25 languages advising victims how to report hate crimes and seek assistance.
Chan, who was attacked from behind and knocked to the ground in April, said the brochures will help spur more reporting of such incidents.
The Chinatown has seen a decrease in traffic amid anti-Asian rhetoric, said Oakland city councilmember Sheng Thao. “People are fearful of walking the street.”
After the release of the 2020 data, the California governor, Gavin Newsom, said he is proposing an investment of $100m to support survivors and another $200m in community-based responses to violence.
“We must stand against hate,” he said in a statement. “To our neighbors who have been exposed to these unspeakable acts, know that we have your back and will use the tools at our disposal to increase safety.”
The second of the two reports highlighted the long history of bias against California’s Asian population, starting with the gold rush of the 1800s, when Chinese residents were blamed for high unemployment, and stretching through the forced placement of Japanese in “relocation centers” during the second world war.
“Much of the anti-Asian sentiment and racism encouraged throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has its foundation in anti-Asian stereotypes that hearken back to past state-sanctioned discrimination,” the report said.
But the attorney general’s office noted that the hate crimes reports only count events reported to police, and such events are often under-reported. They also don’t include hate-related “incidents,” such as taunting or racist flyers that aren’t considered criminal.
After reports of hate crimes against Asians began mounting last March when the pandemic hit, the group Stop AAPI Hate began tracking a broad array of incidents targeting Asians. They have counted 6,600 incidents, ranging from gangs taunting people and business-owners refusing to serve Asians to dozens of violent attacks and robberies targeting elderly people. So far, they have chronicled 2,641 incidents in California, since the pandemic began.
“We don’t feel the narrow focus on hate crimes is enough to address the racism we’re seeing,” said San Francisco State University Asian studies professor Russell Jeung, who co-founded the group. Trump’s “use of the term ‘China virus’ has really stigmatized us. We’re getting coughed on and spat upon at really high rates. I don’t remember anybody spitting on anybody in 2019.”
Jeung said a recent survey by the group found that Asians are more afraid of racist violence than they are of the coronavirus.
“We are experiencing a lot of trauma and fear for our elders,” Jeung said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting