From robberies targeting Asian-owned businesses in Philadelphia and Sacramento to sexual assaults and rapes targeting Asian women in New York City and Seattle, crimes that target our community are more common than we are led to believe.
Earlier this year at the OC Night Market, a Vietnamese American man was told to “go back to Asia” where he could “go eat dog” after refusing to allow two White women and a White man to cut ahead of him in line. The trio later gave him a severe beating that required stitches and temporary fillings, but the police did not consider the attack racially-motivated.
According to the FBI, only 3.2% of all hate crimes committed in 2015 involved anti-Asian bias. But statistics aren’t entirely accurate because these incidents often go unreported. Cultural and linguistic barriers, ignorance of the legal system, and a mistrust of law enforcement cause many victims to stay silent, and police often fail to identify and report hate crimes.
Some states have no hate crime laws, and among those that do, the legal definitions vary; state organizations are not even obligated to record hate crime data, which creates informational gaps. What we do know is that unlike other racial groups, Asians most often fall victim to non-Asians rather than members of their own race.
Asian Americans are attractive targets for violent crime due to racial stereotypes that paint Asians as submissive, compliant, and physically weak. In a revealing interview, ex-con Ananze Emenike admits that he chose Asian victims based on the assumptions that they carried a lot of money, wouldn’t fight back, and wouldn’t go to police due to a language barrier:
These attacks are often dismissed as “crimes of opportunity” despite their obvious racial motivations. Back in 2001, two White men and a White woman in Spokane, Washington pled guilty to the abduction, assault and rape of two young Japanese women, who were targeted in the belief that they would not report the crimes. Police felt that the perpetrators were “very infatuated with the Japanese race,” indicating that they cannot tell the difference between race and ethnicity, and did not classify the incident as a hate crime.
Non-Asian women like the one complicit in the Spokane rapes often act as accomplices in crimes against Asian women, indicating that race trumps gender as the primary motivator for crimes against Asian Americans. Last February in Los Angeles, a White woman hit an 83-year old Korean woman in the face, yelling “white power!” as she ran away, and during a recent attempted carjacking in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it was a Black woman who instructed her male accomplice to beat an Asian woman with brass knuckles.
Asian Americans, whether they are immigrants or born and raised in the U.S., are seen as perpetual foreigners. Korean adoptee Kyle Descher’s jaw was split in two simply for being a “fucking Asian,” while 14-year-old Kwok Po Li lost hearing in his left ear after students who previously bullied other Chinese immigrants beat him with brass knuckles. Other victims, like Vincent Chin, are used as scapegoats for American economic problems and accused of stealing jobs from “real Americans” in an extension of the Yellow Peril narrative. Because Asians are viewed as a monolithic group, criminals — like the men who murdered Chin because they mistook him for a Japanese man — are unable to or don’t care to distinguish between members of different ethnicities.
Today, anti-Asian crimes continue to go unnoticed due to insufficient documentation. In an effort to remedy this, the civil and human rights nonprofit group Asian Americans Advancing Justice launched their own anti-crime tracker, standagainsthatred.org, at the beginning of this year. The site is translated into four different Asian languages to help minimize the language barrier to reporting these incidents, but it relies on anonymous self-reports that cannot always be authenticated and also tracks hate crimes targeting non-Asian groups, so the space does not exclusively cater to Asians.
Our community still needs a database dedicated to cataloging verified instances of anti-Asian crime.
J. Maraan is a second-generation Filipino-American and college graduate living on the East Coast.