Report: Anti-Asian hate crimes surge in several major U.S. cities

A new report confirms that hate crimes against the Asian community have surged across several of the nation's major cities. The data comes from California State University, San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. It found a 169% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 15 cities during the first quarter of 2021. Angie Chung, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany, joined CBSN's Lana Zak to discuss.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: A new report confirms that hate crimes against the Asian community have surged across several of the nation's major cities. The data comes from California State University San Bernardino Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. It found a 169% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 15 cities during the first quarter of 2021. New York saw the biggest jump at 223%. The State recorded 42 hate crimes against people of Asian descent compared to just 13 during the same period last year.

Experts say anti-Asian rhetoric during the pandemic has fueled the surge in these types of crimes. For more on this, I'm joined now by Angie Chang. She's an associate professor of sociology at the University of Albany. Angie, thanks for being here. So do we have a sense how accurate this information is and why these crimes may be concentrated in these particular areas?

ANGIE CHUNG: Well, I think these numbers may actually underestimate what's going on across the country. Clearly, a lot of people are scared. They don't know where they need to turn to when these types of crimes happen. And so I do think that this is just really kind of the tip of the iceberg of what we're seeing across the United States.

In terms of why New York City, Los Angeles, the big cities are kind of the concentration of a lot of these crimes, several factors are at play, one being the population density, the high visibility of Asian Americans, for example, in New York, there are about 15% of the population, and also the urban infrastructure where you see a lot of people interacting with each other in public spaces on public transportation. So a part of it is demographics, but I think why people are so shocked is that these are the gateways for immigration and racial diversity in America, so why is it that we see such high levels of bigotry and intolerance? And I think it just goes to show that it's always existed throughout the history no matter where you live.

LANA ZAK: You've done research on the impact of COVID-19 on the well-being of students of Asian descent in New York State. Talk to us about your findings.

ANGIE CHUNG: Right. Just as a context, my university is one of many universities that really prides itself on the huge international student population, many of whom come from East Asia as well as South Asia. And so we've seen a very disturbing trend in which a lot of students have been having a lot of disturbing and stressful encounters with local residents, in particular, whenever they go out in public spaces, shopping malls, bus shelters, and it ranges widely from people shouting verbal profanity, racial profanity, to physical aggression, as well as microaggression, people avoiding them.

And what's kind of disturbing about this trend as well is that the campuses haven't even really fully opened yet. So I'm sorry to say that as campuses start opening, these patterns and these interactions are just going to increase. The other thing to note is that because they're international students, a lot of them don't know where to go again, that they are worried about their legal status, and they don't know how to deal with these types of encounters.

LANA ZAK: Oh, concerning and good that it's being studied, but I'm wondering, there's some debate. What effect do you think the attention being paid to these anti-Asian attacks has?

ANGIE CHUNG: Well, I think part of the problem, for anyone who studied American history, is that a lot of times, these problems have been hidden under this mantle of the model minority, that Asian Americans are supposedly succeeding in America and that they've been accepted as equals. And if they work hard enough, people will treat them as Americans.

But the actuality is that we've had this type of pattern repeat itself. We can go all the way back to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and then as we fast forward, we can talk about the beating of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, who was mistaken as a Japanese, by disgruntled white auto workers. We can talk about the 1992 Los Angeles riots, where a lot of Koreans lost businesses, and they weren't protected by law enforcement.

I think if you look at the history, it's continuously reemerging during cycles of crisis. Whenever we have global pandemics like this or economic recessions, when people are just angry, this side of racism has clearly manifested itself historically, and I don't think that this is something new. And so this is something we really need to pay attention to.

LANA ZAK: Certainly, the history is not pretty. You mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it's interesting that very little attention had previously been paid to those difficult parts of American history. Let's talk about what is happening in our country right now. Last month, the US Senate voted almost unanimously to pass a bill aimed at combating anti-Asian hate crimes. It would streamline the reporting process for these crimes. It would also create a position at the Department of Justice to specifically review those incidents. What's your take on these legislative efforts?

ANGIE CHUNG: Well, I don't want to underplay what Senator Serrano and Meng put together with the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. I think it's very important, given the history I just spoke about in which racism against Asian Americans have been primarily invisible. Clearly, we need to do something about these high rates of attacks against the Asian-American community, including, sadly enough, elderly and anyone who's vulnerable, women.

I do want to point out, though, one of the concerns that many Asian Americans have is the very complicated and problematic history of policing communities of color. So this Hate Crimes Bill, certainly is important symbolically, but we do know that by increasing police presence in communities of color and also focusing only on penalizing these violent forms of crimes, we're not really getting at the roots of other forms of racism.

We just finished a trial with Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. Clearly, these issues have come out in the past year, and Asian Americans, many do support Black Lives Matter, and they do have a concern that we need to implement this along with the reform of the police.

So I think that it's a good start, but we need to also expand this to include multilingual services, education, certainly, reform of the police department. These are all things that go together hand in hand.

LANA ZAK: All right, Angie Chung, thank you very much.

ANGIE CHUNG: Thank you.