Lawmakers and elected leaders grapple with surge in anti-Asian hate crimes

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, has instructed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to offer assistance to the NYPD in its investigation of an attack on an elderly woman in Midtown Manhattan yesterday.

Officials at all levels of government are scrambling to find solutions to the surge in hate crimes against Asians in New York and nationwide.

Following the recent racially motivated shootings in Atlanta and rise in anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the country, New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is calling for the restoration of previously cut funding for the city’s Hate Violence Prevention Initiative, and for the expansion of the program to more effectively combat hate against Asian-American communities.

But even with calls to action and promises for change, anti-Asian hate crimes are still occurring in the state and around the country. Just this week an Asian woman was beaten and verbally assaulted on her way to church in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of the day, while witnesses stood by and watched. 

The brutal attack caught the attention of the governor, who directed the State Police Hate Crime Task Force to begin an investigation. The attack was captured on surveillance video.

“The reports of a brutal assault on an Asian American woman in midtown are absolutely horrifying and repugnant,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning. “We are all New Yorkers – no matter how we look or what language we speak – and we must always look out for one another and help those who need it.

“Violence against our Asian American community is unfortunately becoming an epidemic in our state and across this nation, and it must stop now. These abhorrent acts of hate have absolutely no place in our state, and we all must stand together as one united voice to denounce hate and violence in all its forms, whenever and wherever we see it.”

Over the past few weeks, organizations and lawmakers have been voicing support for Asian-American communities and calling for change at the state and federal levels. 

Some of the organizations that have made recent statements include, the League of Women Voters of the United States and Georgia, SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellors of SUNY and CUNY, the New York State Bar Association, Citizen Action, the National Action Network, and the New York State Democratic and Republican parties. 

A statement from the League of Women Voters of U.S. and Georgia read “Anti-AAPI racism is not new to our country, whose history includes the creation of internment camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited Chinese laborers, as well as countless acts of violence. Yet in the past year, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in attacks targeting AAPIs, often in connection with myths about COVID-19.”

Additionally, individual New York state lawmakers have released statements. These have included Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Assemblyman Dan Quart.

“These attacks come at a time when anti-Asian violence is spreading like a disease in America. Let me be clear: this is a man-made crisis. The former president and his enablers used fear of COVID-19 and its origins to engender intolerance and hate and gave a platform to racist, bigoted terminology and assumptions about the pandemic,” Maloney said.

Hate crimes against Asian-American people have been on the rise over the past year as the pandemic has plagued the country and former president Donald Trump’s language and sentiments toward COVID have become commonplace amongst many of his supporters. 

A recent report from Stop AAPI Hate, an organization advocating for the prevention of anti-Asian sentiments and violence, has indicated that from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, there were 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian violence or discrimination reported. 

Of those, just over 68% were verbal harassment, and around 20% were shunning. The third-largest category reported was physical assault at 11%. The report also indicated that women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, and businesses were the primary location of harassment.

Anti-Asian hate crimes have been occurring throughout the country. On Monday, March 29, a 65 year old Asian woman was beaten and verbally assaulted by an unidentified suspect on her way to church in Midtown Manhattan according to a recent article from the New York Post.

Surveillance footage from the brutal attack showed that multiple people, including a security guard of a nearby building, witnessed the attack and did nothing. But state lawmakers insisted on taking action.

Among those uniting and speaking out against these issues was New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams who on Friday, March 19, brought together a coalition at a press conference. 

“The tragic, enraging, and heartbreaking shootings on Tuesday night, and the responses by some that highlight the shooter and minimize the women who he killed, are another reminder of the systems in place and the levels of bigotry that run throughout them,” said Williams in a statement released Thursday, March 18.

The press conference included organizations such as the Asian American Federation, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, the Chinese Planning Council and the Arab-American Family Support Center, the Muslim Community Network, the South Asian Bar Association of New York, Hunger Free America, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and other anti-hate violence organizations, as well as elected officials. 

The conference intended to restore funding for New York City’s Hate Violence Prevention Initiative in the coming state budget. The initiative is defined as “a coalition of diverse community organizations designated by the Council, to improve education and services in the City.”  The original initiative allotted $1 million to 15 groups, including The Center for Anti-Violence Education, an organization that works to prevent hate violence and crimes. 

Williams also called for the expansion of programming within the Hate Violence Prevention Initiative that would combat racially motivated violence toward Asian-American communities. 

“In New York City and across the nation, we have seen months of escalating attacks against Asian Americans and an environment of white supremacy that ultimately led to this loss of lives,” Williams added. “We urgently need additional action across all levels of government to not only stand in solidarity with the Asian American community, but to combat bigotry and prevent future tragedy.”

Other political figures and state lawmakers have been releasing statements over the past few weeks, even prior to the shootings in Atlanta. 

New York legislation titled The Hate Crimes Analysis and Review Act (S.70/A.2230) that would allow hate crimes to receive more attention by law enforcement and judicial bodies have passed in the Senate and Assembly committees and await further approval.

The renewal of these bills follow similar legislation drafted and rejected by state legislative branches in 2019. New York State lawmakers continue to work toward reform in regards to hate crimes and civil justice in the wake of these racially motivated acts of violence.