A string of attacks on Asian Americans, particularly targeting seniors, has communities on edge going into this weekend’s Lunar New Year celebrations. For some, the recent assaults and robberies feel like the inevitable escalation of anti-Asian sentiments that have surged in some corners over the last year, with Asians being blamed for the spread of coronavirus.
Seeing video of a 91-year-old man being thrown to the ground by an assailant in Oakland’s Chinatown on January 31 brought the problem into focus for many. This week, a man was arrested in connection with that and two other attacks targeting Asian seniors. Around 20 robberies and assaults have been reported in the neighborhood since the beginning of the year.
The Oakland incidents come amid what appears to be a wave of attacks, all targeting older Asian Americans. On January 28, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American man, was attacked and shoved to the ground while out for a morning walk in San Francisco. Ratanapakdee died just days later.
In an interview about Ratanapakdee’s death, his daughter told CBS San Francisco that she believed her father was targeted due to his race, and that she herself has also been a victim of recent anti-Asian discrimination.
“When people [see] me because I’m Asian, they blame me that I bring the COVID to this country,” she said.
Advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has logged reports of over 2,808 incidents of anti-Asian behavior in the U.S. since the outset of the pandemic, including physical assaults, verbal attacks, and acts of racial discrimination. Nearly 44 percent of the incidents reported took place in California.
“Racist rhetoric from the pandemic have targeted us as being the reason for coronavirus,” actor David Wu said at a press conference on Monday. He, along with fellow actor Daniel Dae Kim, established a reward fund in the case of the Oakland assailant.
“Asians across the board have been targeted, being pushed, attacked, spat on. Outside of San Francisco, in Los Angeles, and in New York, these incidents are happening all over the country.”
Within the last few weeks, there have been other attacks on Asian individuals reported, including a 61-year-old New York City man who had his face slashed on the subway, and a 70-year-old woman robbed and assaulted on the street in San Jose.
Many lay some portion of the blame for surging anti-Asian racism on former President Donald Trump who, they say, encouraged his followers to link COVID-19 to Asian people.
“Since the beginning of last year, we’ve been calling attention to what was fueling the rising hate crimes. We set up guidance to every member of Congress to not use things like ‘Chinese flu’ or ‘Chinese virus.’ We felt a lot of pressure from the president [Trump],” Ben Suarato, communications director for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told The Washington Post.
Suarato says his caucus is now pushing for the No Hate Act, federal legislation that aims to better report and track hate crimes data.
With Lunar New Year celebrations taking place starting on Friday, even without large gatherings planned, communities are expressing concern for seniors who might be out shopping or running errands.
In Oakland and San Francisco, police departments say they plan to increase patrols and surveillance. LAPD did not respond to a request for information about any potential plans prior to the publication of this article.
But not everyone thinks that an increased police presence is the right approach.
“Calling for heavier policing is not the answer. They are not going to do anything except perpetuate excessive force and violence,” writer Marianne Mychaskiw stated in an Instagram post that has been widely shared in response to the attacks. “Community solidarity is about protecting and looking out for each other.
Some activists are encouraging volunteers to stage informal, socially distanced foot patrols through Asian enclaves, keeping an eye on elders and offering assistance as needed.
“It’s heartbreaking to see all the violence our community has been suffering being played out over and over again,” reads a statement from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which is encouraging an “eyes and feet on the street” effort going into the holiday weekend. “Wear yellow in celebration of the Lunar New Year, shop and say hi to businesses and neighbors, and let folks know you’re with them and we’re in this together.”