Two years ago, the world as we knew it changed right before our eyes. As spring brought us blooming flowers, longer days and pollen-related allergies, we were blindsided by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants displayed “closed” signs, a myriad of other businesses shut their doors, hospitals overcrowded and face mask sales skyrocketed. Rising just as drastically, however, were rates of Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, hate crimes. Asian communities now face staggering rates of harm at the hands of discrimination and ignorance. These frightening percentages can no longer be ignored, especially as we welcome the Lunar New Year. As members of the Bay Area, it is our duty to keep each other safe.
In April 2021, 61-year-old Yao Pan Ma was assaulted in East Harlem, New York amid the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes. After being hospitalized for nearly eight months, Yao Pan Ma died of his injuries Dec. 31. On Jan. 15, Berkeley-born and Bay Area member Michelle Alyssa Go was pushed to her death onto an oncoming train in a Times Square subway station. While the assault on Go has not been labeled a hate crime, it nonetheless increases fear within AAPI communities concerning their safety — fear that no one should have to live with. These are just two examples of the myriad of tragic incidents that continue to plague AAPI communities, and there’s no reason that we should continue to risk the possibility of more incidents.
Statistics and increased reports of hate crimes on AAPI communities, in conjunction with understandable outrage and call-to-actions from communities across the country, were fortunately enough for Congress to step in. First introduced in March and later signed into law May 20, 2021, by U.S. President Joe Biden, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act makes reporting race-related hate crimes more accessible to impacted individuals. However, the establishment of hotlines by this act has still not been enough to keep AAPI communities safe.
On March 17, 2021, a day after eight people lost their lives in Atlanta, Georgia, at the hands of a shooter — who strictly targeted three spas in the area — San Francisco Mayor London Breed expressed her sentiments on Twitter. Immediately after the initial tweet, she shared that she asked the San Francisco Police Department to “increase patrols in areas with a high number of Asian residents, visitors, and businesses immediately.” However, just this past week, The Associated Press reported that the city of San Francisco experienced an increase in reported hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2021 — a 567% increase from the year before.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in August that the Asian American population has grown by an estimated 30% throughout the past 10 years. The 2020 census report revealed that AAPI individuals make up 5.8% of the U.S. population — which is more than 19 million people. Hate crimes against AAPI communities are not strictly a Bay Area concern. They are a nationwide crisis, and keeping each other safe is a humanitarian declaration.
With many events being held throughout San Francisco, Oakland and cities across the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year, what is to be done to ensure AAPI communities can celebrate safely and in peace? The wrong solution is evident: More policing.
The race and resistance studies department at San Francisco State University issued a statement following the Atlanta shooting. In the statement, the department shared both its condolences and outrage at the incident before turning to solutions that can address systemic anti-Asian hate crimes. The statement clearly declares the department “adamantly reject(s) the turn to police as a solution,” emphasizing that more policing “only strengthens the race, gender, and class violence of the prison industrial complex.” Instead, the department made one thing clear: “We reject divide-and-conquer tactics that seek to destroy solidarity among communities of color.”
With UC Berkeley enrolling a total of 15,219 AAPI-identifying students in fall 2021, the campus community has a duty in showing solidarity for its fellow Golden Bears. Advocating for additional funding to campus resources that directly serve AAPI students, such as the Asian American and Pacific Islander Standing Committee, demonstrates active solidarity in practice. Furthermore, demanding that UC Berkeley remove exhibits that honor past individuals who represented white supremacy and colonialism highlights the power and influence of collective action in protecting one another. Ongoing solidarity should be instinctual and embraced by every student on campus.
With census numbers showing the impact of this issue, steps must be taken to address the situation. Visiting credible websites supporting AAPI causes, such as Stop AAPI Hate and the AAPI Equity Alliance, and educating ourselves on the issues AAPI communities face will help bring more attention to the situation. We can also advocate for the increased awareness of AAPI hate within communities and help educate the public on the dangers and hate crimes people living in their neighborhoods face. Adopting a “see something, say something” mentality, sharing resources through social media and word-of-mouth and ultimately listening to AAPI communities directly on ways to offer support are key to practicing solidarity. We must also, as a community, build solidarity with AAPI-led organizations and stand up to Asian discrimination and racism wherever and whenever we see it. Creating unity within the people and spreading awareness will help curb the issue of Asian American hate in the Bay Area as well as nationwide.