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We Must End Anti-Asian Violence and Invest in Community Safety

By Anjana Malhotra, NCLEJ Senior Staff Attorney

NCLEJ joins in solidarity with Asian American communities in opposing racist violence.

We honor the lives of all Asian Americans lost to systemic oppression. We mourn the six Asian women and two other victims who were fatally shot on March 16 by a white gunman in north Georgia. We honor the life of an 84-year-old Thai man who died in San Francisco after being shoved to the ground. And we condemn the brutal violence against a Korean American military veteran in Los Angeles, and the vicious attack last week in New York on a Filipina American woman in broad daylight. We also acknowledge the many unreported and unknown anti-Asian hate crimes that have happened.

This violence has created a pervasive sense of fear among Asian American communities. Many are scared to leave their homes.

As racism and fear spread, Asian Americans are being blamed for Covid-19. Since the pandemic began, organizations have recorded an whopping 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans. Hate crimes fell generally in 2020, yet those against Asian Americans grew by almost 150 percent in the U.S.’ 16 biggest cities. Women have been targeted twice as often as men. And people 60 and older were disproportionately targeted with physical violence.

This rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes is part of our nation’s painful and vicious history of racism.

Asian Americans have long been targets of violence, exclusion, and labor exploitation in the U.S. Violence historically worsens in times of national upheaval and economic crisis. After a massacre and hundreds of attacks on Chinese Americans, the U.S. passed the nation’s first restrictive immigration laws. First, the Page Act in 1875 effectively prohibited immigration by Chinese women by branding them sex workers. Then the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 blocked migration of Chinese immigrants. Later legislation blocked all Asian immigration to the country.

The violence continued. During World War II, the U.S. government detained over 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps for years. Half of those in internment camps were children. In the 1980s, Asian Americans were violently targeted when white workers felt economic insecurity. Vincent Chin was brutally killed in 1982 by two laid off white autoworkers. His murderers were fined a meager $3,000 and sentenced to probation. After September 11, Muslims, South Asians, and Arabs, were targeted, unjustifiably detained, and now continue to experience harassment.

When can we begin to truly reckon with this country’s long history of racial violence?

Not only does sweeping, racist, and irresponsible rhetoric fuel physical harm, it denies Asian Americans humanity, dignity, and equality. It is critical to end and counteract the racist rhetoric fomenting these attacks. It’s time for effective interventions that address the root causes of crime and violence: systemic racism, white supremacy, and economic and racial inequities.

The solution to violence and real safety is investing in community resources.

True public safety is a result of investments in job creation, housing, education, health care and mental health support available to all. We must start by centering Asian Americans and people of color and putting them at the forefront of our movement for justice.