Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Rose 150% In Major U.S. Cities, Study Finds

Racist, nativist and xenophobic sentiments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are leading to attacks on Asian Americans.
Demonstrators rally against anti-Asian hate crimes in San Mateo, California, on Feb. 27.
Demonstrators rally against anti-Asian hate crimes in San Mateo, California, on Feb. 27.
Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans rose 150% in America’s largest cities last year, even as overall hate crimes decreased, according to alarming new data released Tuesday.

There were 122 hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020, according to a study of police records by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, compared to 49 such crimes in those cities in 2019.

The first spike in anti-Asian hate crimes occurred in March and April, according to the study, “amidst a rise in COVID cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic.”

New York City saw the biggest increase, recording 28 such hate crimes in 2020 compared to only three in 2019 — an 833% jump. Other cities with especially large upticks included Philadelphia and Cleveland, which both saw 200% increases; and Boston and Los Angeles, which both saw increases of over 110%.

These spikes, according to the study, occurred even as overall hate crimes in those cities fell 7%, a drop likely caused by coronavirus lockdown measures, which created “a lack of interaction at frequent gathering places like transit, commercial businesses, schools, events, and houses of worship.”

The study, first reported by Voice of America, is seen as a reliable predictor of annual FBI hate crime statistics for the whole country, released every November.

Brian Levin, executive director at the hate and extremism center, told HuffPost he predicts the FBI data for 2020, once it’s released this fall, will show a “century-high” number of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans.

“For our Asian American friends and neighbors, this is similar to a post 9/11 time, similar to what we saw with Muslims and Arab Americans,” Levin said, referring to the increase in hate crimes targeting those groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), whose district in Queens has recently seen anti-Asian hate crimes, told HuffPost that racist rhetoric and misinformation from public officials is to blame.

More than 200 people gather in Washington Square Park in New York City on Feb. 20 to rally in support of the Asian community and against hate crimes and white nationalism.
More than 200 people gather in Washington Square Park in New York City on Feb. 20 to rally in support of the Asian community and against hate crimes and white nationalism.
Pacific Press/Getty Images

“We saw discriminatory rhetoric coming from President Trump and Members of Congress including from the highest-ranking Republican in the House,” Meng said in a statement Tuesday.

“Although Donald Trump is no longer in office, his past anti-Asian rhetoric and use of terms like ‘Chinese virus’ and ‘Kung-flu’ continues to threaten the safety of the Asian American community,” Meng said, adding that “so many Asian Americans” are currently “living in fear.”

For more than a year, Asian Americans have faced a deluge of attacks fueled by racist, nativist and xenophobic sentiments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As president, Trump exacerbated these attacks by continually referring to the pandemic using racist terms and scapegoating China, where the virus was first detected, to downplay his shambolic response to the pandemic.

This hate and fearmongering is another chapter in a long history of racism, nativism and xenophobia against Asian Americans, beginning in the 19th century, when Asian immigrants were deemed “the yellow peril” and accused of being filthy disease carriers.

Throughout the pandemic, Asian American and Pacific Islander advocacy groups and local governments have recorded sharp upticks in anti-Asian racist attacks and harassment. Since last March, the group Stop AAPI Hate has collected nearly 3,000 reports from 47 states and the District of Columbia — everything from being verbally attacked or spat on to being physically assaulted or denied services. The number is likely an undercount because the incidents are self-reported.

In recent weeks, there has been a wave of high-profile incidents, including in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, both with large and robust Asian American communities. Many of the attacks have involved older Asian Americans.

In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden condemned anti-Asian racism and pledged to take more action, and the Department of Justice has said it will devote more resources to investigating such incidents.

Meng, in her statement to HuffPost on Tuesday, said she also plans to reintroduce her COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would require the DOJ to provide Congress with regular updates on the status of reported hate incidents tied to the pandemic.

Local law enforcement in places like New York and California have also started more concerted efforts since last year, though some Asian American advocacy groups have expressed concern about law enforcement involvement.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of anti-Asian hate crimes in major American cities in 2019.

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