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We Are Not a Virus: The Rise in Anti-Asian Sentiment

Kung flu. China virus. China flu. Plague from China. Former President Donald Trump used all of these phrases to describe COVID-19. Ever since the virus landed on North American soil last year, I’ve seen numerous headlines that went something like this:

“Crowd Mocks Elderly Asian Man as He’s Robbed, Assaulted in Brutal Video”

“Acclaimed jazz pianist attacked by teens in subway station”

“89-Year Old Woman Slapped in Face, Set on Fire in Brooklyn”

“Fire, vandalism at Buddhist temple in Los Angeles under investigation”

“Surveillance Video Shows Brutal San Francisco Assault That Fatally Injured 84-Year-Old Man”

Every time I went on TikTok, logged onto Twitter, scrolled on Instagram and opened the news, there was always a new headline. The ones I provided above barely scratch the surface of the rise of xenophobic anti-Asian sentiment that rose exponentially in the last year due to COVID-19.

I’m not here to condemn any groups, nor do I write this to preach that Asian and Asian-American issues are worse than the problems that other groups face. Instead, I’m simply raising awareness for the increased hatred toward innocent people who didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, they were spat on, burned and assaulted.

In New York City alone, statistics estimate anti-Asian hate crime increased by 1900% last year. The organization Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organization devoted to reporting anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, received approximately 2,808 reports from March 19 to Dec. 31 last year. Of those cases, 8.7% related to physical assault, 6.4% included victims being coughed and spit on, 70.9% included verbal harassment, and 21.4% reported shunning and avoidance.

Furthermore, according to a study by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, people of Asian descent are less likely to be victims of crime in comparison to other racial groups. However, in a city where approximately 36% of the population is of Asian descent, 16% of crime victims whose ethnicities were known were Asian.

In light of the recent headlines regarding anti-Asian hate crimes and injustices, I want to share with you some of the stories that burned themselves into the back of my mind, serving as grim reminders of the reality we live in.

His name is Angelo Quinto

*TW: police brutality, asphyxiation and death*

Angelo Quinto was a 30-year-old Filipino-American Navy veteran. On Dec. 23, Quinto was in mental distress; he needed help. Quinto struggled with mental disorders like anxiety and depression, and the night the event occurred, Quinto was in mental distress. His family believed he was suffering from paranoia. His sister Isabella Collins did what many people would do: She called the police, believing they could help.

Instead, when they entered the room as Quinto’s mother held him in her arms to prevent him from further harm, officers forced her to release him, and they proceeded to handcuff him. Once they did so, they flipped him onto his back, and an officer placed his lower legs against his neck to press him down while the other held his legs down. There was not a moment Quinto resisted verbally or physically. He only asked them, “Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.”

After about five minutes as both officers subdued him, his mother started recording the video that went viral on social media in which she watched her son’s bloodied face and limp body be carried outside of her bedroom.

On Feb. 18, 2021, Quinto’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the Antioch Police Department. In response, Police Chief Tammany Brooks claimed that instead of an officer pressing his knee on Quinto’s neck, he pressed his knee against his shoulder blades to subdue him, which is considered an approved technique in California. The case is currently an open investigation.

Leave our elders alone

*Warning: elder abuse and assault*

Oakland. San Francisco. New York City. The United States of America. All across the country, headlines showcase the news of crimes against Asian elders. One day in San Jose, thieves assaulted and robbed a 64-year-old Vietnamese woman of the money she meant to give out for Lunar New Year.

In Oakland, at California’s Chinatown, Yahya Muslim violently shoved a 91-year-old man to the ground. That same day, he attacked a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman.

In Brooklyn, two 13-year-old teenage boys lit an 89-year-old elderly woman’s shirt on fire after one of them slapped her in the face. Because of her quick thinking, she rubbed her back against a wall to put out the flames. She didn’t even tell her family until the next day because she didn’t want her kids to worry about her.

Politicians employed anti-Asian speech to describe the pandemic, so people began to use those of Asian descent as a scapegoat for violence, believing they are the cause of the pandemic. As a result, they target the most vulnerable of the community: our elders. According to statistics from Stop AAPI Hate, 7.3% of their self-reported incidents involve elderly Asian Americans in which the majority of these cases occur in states with high Asian populations.

Although, according to Stop AAPI Hate’s statistics, it appears as though Asian elders are not being targeted on a grand scale. However, many Asian-American community leaders believe these statistics are misleading because many members of their communities are hesitant to contact authorities due to numerous factors, like mistrust of the justice system or language barriers.  

His name is Vicha Ratanapakdee

*TW: elder abuse, assault and murder*

On Jan. 28, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee went on his routine morning walk, telling his wife he would finish the coffee she made for him when he returned home. He never finished that coffee.

Instead, about an hour later on his walk, a 19-year-old ran at him with full force, causing Ratanapakdee to fall to the ground, hitting his head on the concrete before coming into contact with a garage door. Two days later, he died of a hemorrhage.

Less than two weeks before this incident, Ratanapakdee received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine, hoping to return home to Thailand after the pandemic prohibited him from doing so. On Feb. 12, he was supposed to receive his second dose, but he never did.

In response to this incident, the San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin compared the 19-year old’s actions to that of a temper tantrum. The suspect was arrested for elder abuse, as well as murder, and pleads he is not guilty. His lawyer Sliman Nawabi claims his client had “no knowledge of Mr. Ratanapakdee’s race… since his face was fully covered” and he claimed the incident was the result of a “break in the mental health of a teenager.”

What have people been doing about it?

As more of these issues come to light, draw the attention of mainstream news sources and gain social media attention, more people become aware of the problems that the Asian and Asian-American communities face as a result of the pandemic. In response, numerous groups have held rallies and protests, created volunteer groups that walk with and protect the elderly in public and raised awareness through social media platforms.

Furthermore, high-profile celebrities, like Daniel Dae Kim and Olivia Munn, have been highly involved in raising awareness, gaining traction from their social media following. Government officials like New York congresswoman Grace Meng also passed a house resolution condemning anti-Asian hate speech. On Jan. 26, President Joe Biden signed an executive order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination.

What can you do to help?

1. Listen to Asian and Asian-American narratives

To understand why this matters, listen directly from the source why Asian and Asian-American voices matter. Learn about our struggles and history in the United States. Recognize current Asian and Asian-American issues. Learn we are not one single group. The term “Asian American” refers to all of those of Asian descent: East Asian, Central Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Western Asians and North Asian.

2. Support local Asian and Asian-American businesses

Since the start of the pandemic, local businesses have suffered greatly due to lockdowns and other disease-preventative procedures. Local Asian and Asian-American businesses, especially, have been hit hard due to anti-Asian sentiment due to COVID-19.

3. Spread awareness

With tools like social media, information is instant. When you learn of injustice, read the article, post that infographic and send links. It only takes a few taps on your phone screen to help further educate yourself and others around you.

Maddy Gastador is a first-year chemistry major and Spanish minor at the University of Florida. Whenever she's not writing, you can catch her binge-watching Netflix, baking cookies, painting, attempting to be a plant mom, or obsessing over BTS. You can get to know her more through Instagram @mxdeleine.c
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