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Asian American groups criticize Seattle's anti-Asian hate budget reduction in new proposal

“If anything, [resources] should be increased to root out the causes of violence against all who are targets of hate,” one nonprofit leader said.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell at a news conference in Seattle on April 18, 2022.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell at a news conference in Seattle on April 18, 2022.David Ryder / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Asian American organizations are calling out the 2023 budget put forth by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who proposed reducing the city’s fund to combat anti-Asian hate by nearly half.

The budget proposal, announced last month, would reduce the city’s hate crime funding from $400,000 in the 2022 adopted budget to $167,000 in the 2023 budget

The office for the mayor, who is the first Asian American to hold the position, defended the proposal saying it also included a number of funding reductions in the human services department and other departments in the city as a response to the $140 million revenue gap Seattle is facing.

Kyle Kinoshita, the co-president of the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the country’s oldest Asian American civil and human rights organization, said JACL strongly opposes the funding cuts.

“It is connected to a long history in the past century and a half of open anti-Asian violence, from anti-Chinese riots in the late 1800s, incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and anti-Asian hate crimes during the 1980s connected to American economic competition with Japan,” Kinoshita said. “We support the continuation of anti-hate crime resources and feel that, if anything, they should be increased to root out the causes of violence against all who are targets of hate.”

Jamie Housen, the director of communications for the mayor’s office, said the proposal still responds to concerns raised directly by members of the AAPI community.

“As Seattle’s first mayor of Asian descent, Mayor Harrell has made it a priority to support the city’s AAPI communities — elevating a ‘One Seattle’ vision to unite Seattle around shared values of inclusion and opportunity for all,” Jamie Housen told NBC News in an email.

Housen said the mayor’s office is recommending to address the immediate public safety issues “through a holistic approach.” He said the proposal includes $7 million for the recruitment, hiring and retention in the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle Fire Department; adding $5.8 million to community safety solutions, resources and gun violence services; and around $1 million in victim support services.

Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, said cities cutting funding for Asian American communities is concerning. 

“[Our communities] have, since the beginning of the pandemic, been experiencing anti-Asian hate, which comes in many different forms. It’s not simply crimes. It’s also verbal harassment, it’s civil rights violations, it’s bullying in schools,” she said. “We are concerned when we hear that elected officials are pulling back on funding because we know that investing in our communities works.”

Seattle’s 2022 adopted budget included an expenditure of $400,000 to address hate crimes and bias that disproportionately affected the AAPI community by implementing two programs: community-based organization funding, including advocacy, counseling, mental health support, trauma response and care; and “innovation funds to community-based organizations,” according to the budget.

Harrell, who’s multiracial, made history in 2021 after being the first Asian and second Black American to be elected mayor of Seattle. “This proposal focuses on addressing the urgent needs of our communities & delivering the essential services that residents expect as we build #OneSeattle,” he tweeted after announcing his budget proposal.

Anti-Asian hate crimes rose exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic, increasing 339% in 2021, according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

“Anti-Asian hate crimes, which surged in the past two years due to the COVID pandemic, still continue and appear in national news. The rapid rise in these crimes triggered by the events of the past two years demonstrates that anti-Asian bias still runs deep in American society,” Kinoshita said.