“The public is seeing this rash of attacks on Asian Americans, and it is possible that there is a trend happening because of racial animus,” said Alissa Heydari, a former assistant district attorney in New York City who now helps direct the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But to prove it in court, when the criminal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, it is really hard to show that a victim was picked in large part because of their ethnicity or gender.”
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
- Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
- Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
- In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
The attacks, many of which have been recorded on video and shared widely, shocked the conscience of the city. Groups of volunteers now patrol the streets of Chinatown, hoping to deter potential attacks. Many Asian New Yorkers say they no longer leave home without pepper spray, or established buddy systems.
In March, the Police Department cobbled together a volunteer group of Asian American officers who work during their time off hoping to stop attacks if they see them happening — including a pilot program where undercover officers wandered streets where anti-Asian violence had taken place and was thought to likely reoccur.
The plainclothes officers were meant to both lure potential offenders into confrontation, and intervene if they saw anti-Asian harassment occurring. But the undercover strategy left officers in tenuous positions, and some were nearly attacked, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.
In one instance, an undercover officer, who is of Asian descent, was approached by a man on a train platform in Queens. The man waved his hand and hat in the officer’s face, and said, “That’s why you peoples are getting beat up,” according to a police report. He was charged with aggravated harassment as a hate crime in April.
Another officer was approached by a man in Midtown Manhattan, who shouted anti-Asian slurs at him, and said, “Go back to China before you end up in the graveyard,” using an expletive, the police said. He was also charged with harassment and menacing as a hate crime.
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