A new compilation of hate crime data reveals that the increase in attacks against Asian Americans has only persisted.
The research, released by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, compared data from the first quarter of 2021 to the same time period in 2020 across 15 major cities. It found that hate crimes surged by 169 percent, continuing the "historic" increase in such attacks last year.
Van C. Tran, a sociologist and associate professor at the City University of New York's Graduate Center, said crimes have increased across the board during the coronavirus pandemic, so the rise in attacks isn't necessarily surprising. However, the data are particularly concerning as they show that the targeting of Asian Americans in particular has "exploded."
"What is unfortunate here is the fact that much of that hate and racism are being targeted towards one very small community in terms of population size," Tran said.
According to the analysis, New York City had the sharpest increase, rising from 13 hate crimes in the first quarter of 2020 to 42 in the same period this year, a 223 percent jump. San Francisco, another city with a large Asian American population, also had a surge, from five to 12 hate crimes, a 140 percent increase. Boston and Los Angeles had rises of 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively.
A report from the center in March showed that hate crimes increased by 150 percent in major cities last year.
The initial spike took place in March and April of last year, alongside an increase in U.S. Covid-19 cases, a rise in rhetoric that stigmatized the Asian community and an official declaration of a pandemic by the World Health organization, the report said.
Asian Americans have experienced sudden increases in hate crimes before, for example after the 2014 report detailing North Korea's human rights violations and the 2018 tariff dispute between the U.S. and China. But the spikes weren't as large, and they didn't last as long as the one recorded this year.
A recent Pew Research study found that about one-fifth of Asian Americans directly attributed the attacks to former President Donald Trump and his "China virus" rhetoric. Tran said that while Trump created a "nightmare scenario" of normalizing racist remarks and behaviors, the surge of hate crimes — and anti-Asian racism in general — can't be pinned to any single cause.
Another factor is the political awakening among Asian Americans during the pandemic, Tran said. While the community has long underreported hate crimes, he said, there may be more willingness to speak up now than ever before because of the activism catalyzed by the attacks.
Tran also said the heightened media attention to the issue, along with other tragedies affecting the Asian American community, like shootings at three Atlanta-area spas and a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, could have prompted more scrutiny and therefore more accurate reporting of hate crimes.
Another factor is what Tran said is a mental health crisis afflicting the country, which he said hasn't been discussed enough, particularly in areas with denser populations.
"Grieving takes on different flavors and manifestations, and the racist sentiments that we're seeing is in some ways the intersection of racism that we have always known about over the last century meeting people who are mentally rather unstable at this particular moment, and unleash the need to basically victimize others out of frustration," he said.
Even in diverse cities like New York, the isolation and stress of the pandemic have often damaged the connections between groups of people, he said.
"In an environment of fear, mistrust, distrust and anxiety that we have been experiencing over the last year, any moments of conflict often get magnified," he said.
When these connections occur, they must be "meaningful contact with those who are seen as equals with each other" to foster healthy relations between communities, he said. Often, communication with Asian Americans comes in interactions with delivery or food service workers, so people don't perceive them as equals, he said.
Although it may feel like an impossible task, moving forward and emerging from the pandemic with less violence and hate will require unity and a fight against all forms of hatred and systemic racism across communities, Tran said.
"I think this is a very, very unique moment whereby I see a lot of need for those cross-race, cross-class relationships and coalitions. Across the spectrum, each of the racial minority groups is facing a different form of othering," Tran said. "Some are more institutional. Others are more interpersonal — they are deeply connected, deeply linked to the ignorance and the hatred that are simmering or have been simmering underneath the surface."