Since the COVID-19 virus first reached American shores, its horrific effects have stretched even further than the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the social isolation, and the economic downturn. Even before COVID-19 became a pandemic, it had already sparked a wave of anti-Asian sentiment around the globe, which manifested in the U.S. as (completely unfounded) boycotts of Chinese restaurants and an increase in racist acts against Asian Americans, egged on by the former president's repeated use of racial epithets to describe the virus. According to Stop AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) Hate, in just the 20 weeks between mid-March and early August, the organization received nearly 2,600 reports of anti-Asian incidents across the U.S.
Throughout the last year, leaders across the country have made efforts to quash this increase in hate crimes: In New York, for example, the Attorney General established a hotline to report the incidents in March, and in August the NYPD launched a task force focused solely on investigating and prosecuting anti-Asian hate crimes. Within a week of being sworn in to office, President Joe Biden issued a memorandum condemning the previous administration's role in furthering anti-Asian sentiment and calling on federal agencies to develop a plan to combat racism against the AAPI community.
In spite of these efforts, hate crimes have continued to rise in the first few weeks of 2021, with several cities reporting increasingly brutal crimes against Asian-American residents. This xenophobia and racism is finally receiving the widespread national attention it needs, however, thanks to the work of activists like Amanda Nguyen, whose February 5 Instagram post about the recent attacks quickly went viral, and celebrities including Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu, who offered a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person who assaulted three people in the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland, California, on January 31. Here's what you need to know about the crime wave, and what you can do to help.
The uptick in crime includes the murder of an 84-year-old in San Francisco.
Eighty-four-year-old San Francisco resident Vicha Ratanapakdee, who was born in Thailand, was killed when a man sprinted directly into him at full speed on the morning of January 28, knocking Ratanapakdee to the ground, before walking away. Paramedics called to the scene brought Ratanapakdee to the hospital, where he died two days later, according to local Fox affiliate KTVU 2. A suspect in Ratanapakdee's death, identified as 19-year-old Antoine Watson, has since been arrested on suspicion of murder, elder abuse, and assault with a deadly weapon.
Just a few days after the attack on Ratanapakdee, in nearby Oakland on January 31, a 91-year-old, 60-year-old, and 55-year-old were all assaulted, seemingly by the same person, in the city's Chinatown district. As seen in now-viral surveillance footage, all three were shoved from behind and left injured, with all three requiring hospital attention after the attacks. ABC 7 reports that a person of interest in the crime spree was arrested on February 1. Carl Chan, the president of Oakland's Chinatown Chamber of Commerce told ABC 7 that in the second half of January alone, there were more than 20 robberies and attacks in the area. Most of the crimes reportedly targeted women and senior citizens, and Chan believes that even more have occurred but have gone unreported.
Meanwhile, on February 3, a 64-year-old Vietnamese woman was mugged in San Jose in broad daylight after withdrawing money from the bank for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations, KTVU 2 reports. While the woman was returning to her car, the attacker drove up and blocked her in, jumped out of the car to steal her purse and keys, then sped away.
And this horrific increase in hate crimes isn't confined to the Bay Area: In just the last week of January, at least nine Asian-owned businesses in Portland, Oregon, were vandalized and had their windows smashed, according to the Willamette Week. Farther south, in San Diego, an elderly Filipino woman was punched by a 35-year-old man identified as James Winslow while riding a trolley on February 8, with witnesses saying the attack seemed completely unprovoked, ABC 10 reported.
Across the country, on February 9, photographer Ming was documenting two manhole explosions in Queens when a man approached her and began bombarding her with racist questions and comments, all of which she captured in a video she later shared on YouTube.
"No one stepped in to help, even though they saw that I was running up and down the block and around them, trying to dodge the guy from coming at me and continuing to harass me," Ming said in the video. "Anti-Asian hate crimes and harassments like this need to be stopped. There's such a lack of media coverage on this, and we are scared."
Less than a week later, on February 16, two elderly Asian-American women, aged 68 and 71, were attacked in separate incidents on the N.Y.C. subway, PIX11 reports.
Activists and celebrities are calling out the racist incidents on social media.
In early February, Amanda Nguyen, founder of civil rights organization Rise and a nominee for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, posted a video on Instagram in which she described the recent spate of anti-Asian hate crimes and asked viewers to help signal-boost the information. Within 24 hours, the video had been viewed more than 3 million times and shared by many other users with large platforms, including Gemma Chan, Amy Schumer, and Phillip Lim.
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The same day, actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu shared footage of the trio of January 31 Oakland attacks and jointly pledged a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit. "We must do more to help the literally thousands of Americans who have suffered at the hands of this absolutely senseless violence. We must take a stand and say, 'no more.' Please help us bring this criminal to justice," Wu wrote on Instagram.
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These efforts have already resulted in a huge boost in awareness of the attacks: On February 7, Nguyen, Kim, and Wu appeared on MSNBC's American Voices with Alicia Menendez to discuss the need for immediate action to stop the rising wave of anti-Asian racism. And on February 8, in a video Nguyen shared on her Instagram, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that news of the attacks have indeed reached the president, noting that Biden is "concerned" about the continued attacks and is working on developing a plan to address them.
Since then, even more activists and celebrities with large platforms have lent their voices to the cause, many rallying around the hashtag #StopAsianHate. Among these are Prabal Gurung, Eva Chen, Chriselle Lim, and Olivia Munn, the last of whom posted on Instagram on Feb. 17 asking for help identifying a man in Queens who had allegedly attacked her friend's mother, who required 10 stitches for her injuries.
"These racist hate crimes against our elders have got to stop," Munn wrote.
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Here's what you can do to help.
First and foremost, if you witness or are targeted in any hate crime attacks, or if you have any information about other ongoing investigations, you should report it immediately to the authorities, first by calling your local police department, then by submitting a report to the FBI.
Additionally, as evidenced by the efforts of Nguyen and many others on social media, sharing and reposting verified information about the attacks on your own platforms can have a huge impact in raising awareness and ensuring that action be taken to protect and bring justice to the AAPI community. A few accounts to follow: Nguyen, Kim, Wu, NextShark, Stop AAPI Hate, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
You can also show your support for the community and volunteer your time in several ways, including patronizing your local Chinatown restaurants and stores, getting involved with AAPI community organizations, and, if you live in the Oakland area, even helping to escort older community members through the city's Chinatown neighborhood (sign up here).
Finally, you can show your support financially. A GoFundMe has been started to support the family of Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old killed in San Francisco, and you can also donate to nonprofit civil rights organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop AAPI Hate, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Womankind, and the Anti-Defamation League.
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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