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Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Rise Dramatically Amid Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Attacks against Asian Americans have been on the rise during the spread of coronavirus. Just in the past month, an elderly Thai man in San Francisco was shoved to the pavement and died of his injuries. A Filipino man in New York was slashed in his face with a boxcutter. Two Asian women in their late 60s and 70s were assaulted in separate attacks on the New York subway this week. Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, a center launched in response to anti-Asian racism, has received over 2,800 first-hand reports of attacks and abuse against Asian-Americans in 47 states and the District of Columbia during the 2020 pandemic.

Jennifer Chen is a writer based in California who's been reporting on these attacks. Thanks so much for being with us.

JENNIFER CHEN: Thank you.

SIMON: And no doubt that these kinds of attacks have increased during the pandemic.

CHEN: Unfortunately, no. Overall, there's been 2,800 cases of self-reporting from Chinese Americans. And that is a vast - it's a huge jump from one year. In California, we account for 44% of those cases.

SIMON: Tell us about self-reporting. Some people are reluctant to report crimes like that.

CHEN: You know, initially, I think a lot of people were scared. But as time has gone on, they have said that more elderly Asians are reporting - self-reporting, which is a huge step, I think, for the Asian American community. Some of it's children helping their parents report, but they also made sure that the reports are available in multiple languages.

SIMON: Have Asian American seniors been any kind of special target?

CHEN: Yes. You know, 7.3 consistently of those cases, those 2,800 cases you mentioned - 7.3 of those are Asian elderly. That means anyone over 60. You know, most likely, they don't speak English. In New York City, like, 1 in 3 Asian seniors live in a limited English language household. In addition, I think there's - you know, just culturally, we don't tend to speak up. We don't want to say anything. We just want to keep our heads down and stay silent. And I think also, you know, they're, unfortunately, defenseless. You know, they're usually just getting groceries, they're walking home. They're not apt to defend themselves in that moment.

SIMON: Why any kind of increase in this hatred during the pandemic?

CHEN: You know, my first story that I wrote for oprahmag.com in March was the first time that I had called out the Chinese virus and kung flu as being racist terms to call a virus, COVID-19. A big response from the non-Asian American community was, this isn't a big deal. This is just words. It's not real racism. Kung flu is kind of funny, if you think about it. I know for myself is that I could see my friends and I talking about how much worse it was getting in Chinatowns, in our communities.

SIMON: May I ask you about your grandmother?

CHEN: Yes. Last year, I wrote a piece about my ahma. She's my Taiwanese grandma. And 4-foot-8 (laughter) I think was her final height. I grew up with her in my house. And we - her bedroom was next to mine. This is a sad thing to share, but I am grateful she's not here because I don't have to worry about her.

SIMON: Yeah. There have been citizens around the country who've been trying to help. And you've been reporting on that, too, I gather.

CHEN: Yes. I wanted to highlight a few organizations, actually. But one that came out of Oakland was a 26-year-old, Jacob Azevedo, after he saw the video of the Thai man killed on the sidewalk in San Francisco, he went to social media and volunteered to escort elderly Asians on outings so they wouldn't be alone. After he put that announcement out, 400 volunteers came together to say, I will walk with you so that you are safe. And that became Compassion in Oakland. And in a New York City community in Chinatown, you know, business owners are doing a fundraiser called Enough is Enough. And they are banding together to serve free meals to elderly who are afraid to go outside. It gives me hope that we're not speaking into a void anymore.

SIMON: Reporter Jennifer Chen, thank you so much for being with us.

CHEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.