This article was translated into Chinese and published on WeChat through a collaboration with Chinese for Affirmative Action
Last Thursday, May 20, 2021, President Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The legislation, which received bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, has been widely praised by Asian Americans as a step towards protecting our communities. The act provides guidance to local law enforcement agencies to collect hate crime data. It also provides funding for local and state-level governments to conduct “crime-reduction” programs that aim to prevent and respond to hate crimes. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a misleading measure for addressing anti-Asian hate. Not only does it fail to address the full scope of anti-Asian violence, but it also presents policing as the solution to what is in fact a complex, historical, and structural problem made worse by carceral logic.
As young diasporic Chinese and Asians of The WeChat Project, we vehemently oppose hate crime legislation like this one, and we ask our community to think twice before supporting any legislation claiming to protect us. We are angry at politicians for weaponizing our fight against anti-Asian violence to hurt fellow BIPOC communities. And we are disappointed that many among our community support the carceral approaches and underlying anti-Black sentiment found in the act.
First, we should question why the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was passed so quickly by some of the same politicians who have perpetuated anti-Asian racism throughout the pandemic.
Last fall, a resolution that deemed anti-Asian sentiment and rhetoric wrong was voted against by 164 members of Congress — all of them Republicans. These politicians not only refused to acknowledge how Asian suffering resulted from their racism but continued to exacerbate hateful and violent conditions against Asian people. According to Virulent Hate, a research initiative studying anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, white politicians were the source of 95.28% of the statements, images, policies, and proposals that stigmatized Asian and Asian American people and blamed them for the coronavirus. Most of these politicians are white men affiliated with the Republican Party, including Senator Tom Cotton (R), Representative Paul Gosar (R), and the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R).
(Source: @philipwang on Twitter)
Since most of the GOP continues to deny how anti-Chinese rhetoric is tied to racism against Asian Americans, why did the same politicians support the new COVID-19 Hate Crime Act?
The answer is that the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act — rather than condemning anti-Asian rhetoric from people in power and directing resources to Asian communities — centers policing as the solution to anti-Asian violence. Increased policing has historically led to the increased arrests of Black and brown people, low-income people, and other vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act increases the prosecution of BIPOC peoples while abdicating white politicians of their responsibility to use their power to protect Chinese and other Asian peoples themselves.
Policing does not identify nor address the root causes of anti-Asian violence. As demonstrated by the March 16, 2021 shootings in Atlanta, when white people murder Asian people, the acts are chalked up to “senseless violence.” In fact, state-sanctioned law enforcement officials have denied that anti-Asian killings are racially motivated at all.
However, the fact is: most perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are white. Led by Dr. Melissa May Borja, Ph.D. — who has done extensive research on news coverage of race, gender, and COVID-related violence — the Virulent Hate Project at the University of Michigan reviewed 4,337 news articles published in 2020 and identified 1,023 incidents of anti-Asian racism. According to this recent study, nearly 90% of the perpetrators of anti-Asian harassment and stigmatizing statements in the past year have been white — not Black or brown.
Led by Melissa Borja, Ph.D., and Jacob Gibson at the University of Michigan, the Virulent Hate Project provides the most up-to-date data on anti-Asian racism and violence during the pandemic. (Source: Virulent Hate Project)
Yet, whenever the media shows a Black or brown person hurting an Asian person, politicians are quick to call for policing and other carceral approaches to stop anti-Asian racial violence. Some among our own Asian American community have likewise concluded that Black and brown people are our enemies and that increased policing is the solution.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is weaponizing our Asian identity and our Stop AAPI Hate movement to push forward the state’s continued oppression and incarceration of Black and brown lives instead of helping our Asian American communities. As explained by Professor Naomi Murakawa of Princeton University: “hate crime legislation provides an easy opportunity for ruling-class elite [such as white politicians] to claim redemption on the cheap, having provided none of what people are actually demanding [such as material support for Asian populations] and instead, standing there with symbolic gestures of criminalization.”
The problem is not that officers need racial training or the funds for expedited hate crime analysis. The problem is that policing does nothing to stop the Sinophobic political rhetoric and imperial actions of the American government that enabled the rise of anti-Asian hate in the first place. Furthermore, policing does nothing to address the combined racial and economic violence at the root of anti-Asian violence.
Organized by CCED-LA, Latine and Chinese American demonstrators in LA’s Chinatown unite to protest the gentrification of their neighborhood and their displacement from their homes as well as to push for affordable housing in September 2020 (Source: CCED-LA)
The victims of anti-Asian violence are largely people from our most vulnerable populations. They are migrants, poor, women, elderly, and undocumented Asians. They are not attacked in wealthy, predominantly white and/or Asian suburbs like those in the Bay Area or New Jersey, but rather in low-income, BIPOC urban communities, such as Chinatowns. These Asian Americans already lack the proper social and economic infrastructures for their personal safety. For instance, they might not be able to afford a car, so they have to take public transportation or walk, making them more vulnerable to attacks on the street. The COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-Asian, Sinophobic rhetoric that has arisen from it has only exacerbated their socioeconomic struggles, with unemployment and eviction rates skyrocketing.
New York City government agencies helped a landlord force almost 100 low-income tenants in Manhattan’s Chinatown out of their apartments. For 7 months, Chinatown residents evicted from their homes protested, even going on a hunger strike in the middle of a freezing winter. (Source: Youth Against Displacement)
In fact, the combined economic and racial violence that Chinatowns are facing — from displacement to businesses shuttering — is a less visible, but certainly real form of anti-Asian violence. Over the past 20 years, the targeted deportation and detention of Vietnamese, Hmong, Lao, and Cambodian migrants is another form of anti-Asian violence that displaces people who left their homelands in the first place due to U.S. imperialism and war in Southeast Asia. Many of these vulnerable Asian Americans who experience violence choose not to call the police when they are in danger because they don’t speak English, hold precarious immigration status, and/or have seen the police harming instead of protecting their community. These communities show us all that police do not keep Asian people safe.
In response to the eviction crisis low-income BIPOC residents of LA’s Chinatown were facing, local organizations Hillside Villa, CCED-LA, and LATU organized a protest for more affordable housing instead of more policing, as the government misleadingly proposed to address anti-Asian violence. (Source CCED-LA)
Additionally, since the neighborhoods where vulnerable Asian Americans reside are predominantly BIPOC, much of the violence inflicted in these communities will be from one BIPOC person to another. As a result, the visibility of attacks inflicted on Asians will appear to be perpetrated by Black and brown people, especially if the media, politicians, and the public are already biased against BIPOC populations. However, crime in low-income neighborhoods is largely driven by their lack of resources, leading to the theft of resources from other community members for example. According to UChicago professor and economist Gary Becker, people only commit crime when the cost of committing the crime (jail time) is less than the benefits of committing the crime (the gain of resources). Therefore, impoverished Black and brown people have more of an incentive to commit property crimes that can lead to physical attacks than well-off white people.
The mugging of an Asian person in a low-income BIPOC neighborhood by another poor BIPOC community member in an effort to make ends meet is not the same as a white person dismembering or shooting Asians with the sole intent of causing harm, as we saw in Atlanta and Indiana. Violence against Asians is often the result of the persisting economic violence committed by the white supremacist and capitalist state, which creates and enforces racist policies that keep BIPOC communities poor and segregated in non-white neighborhoods.
In calling for an end to anti-Asian violence, we must direct attention to those who have the most influence to incite it — white perpetrators who have the power of white supremacy and empire on their side. When we consider who has the ability to drive anti-Asian racism, it is not other marginalized BIPOC people in constant struggle and solidarity with Asian Americans, but rather those in positions of power: white politicians, lawmakers, and media personalities. White people in power often have material incentives to stoke anti-Asian, racist sentiment — whether it’s feeding into stereotypes of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners or a deadly “Yellow Peril” to rile up a conservative audience or voter base, or linking COVID-19 to Chinese Americans in order to justify geopolitical tension with China.
Chinese-Japanese American student Kara Chu, 18, holds a pair of heart balloons decorated by herself for the rally "Love Our Communities: Build Collective Power" to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. (Source: Reappropriate and AP Photo)
Lest we forget, the root cause of anti-Asian violence is white supremacy. When we incorrectly scapegoat other communities of color for anti-Asian violence, we are no different from those in power who legitimize anti-Asian violence with anti-Asian rhetoric. Anyone who celebrates the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act as a victory against anti-Asian violence is part of the problem.
In direct contrast to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, over 100 Asian diasporic organizations have come out to stand for abolitionist principles as the solution to anti-Asian violence instead: direct funding and resources to the community themselves instead of police, who were designed to protect wealthy, white people. To address the systemic roots of anti-Asian violence, this alternative advocates for bolstering the social and economic infrastructures — employment, housing, healthcare, and more — that protect our most vulnerable — our elders, our poor, our women, and our undocumented.
We demand better. We demand more.
RESOURCES & ACTIONABLES
Chinatown Organizers: Follow Them & Check Out Their Actionables