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How the US can address the ‘moment of crisis’ facing the AAPI community

Amna Nawaz speaks to Russell Jeung, a co-founder of the Stop AAPI Hate group and a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, about a growing and disturbing trend — a rise in hateful acts from slurs to physical violence — against Asian Americans and people of Pacific Islander descent.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a growing and disturbing trend, a rise in hateful acts, from slurs to physical violence, against Asian Americans and people of Pacific Islander descent.

    Amna Nawaz reports.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, there's been a series of brutal and public attacks against Asian Americans.

    Just last Sunday, two women, 65 and 85 years old, were stabbed while waiting at a bus stop in San Francisco. Also this week, in the same city, a man was beaten on the street while pushing his toddler's stroller. In New York this week, two women were attacked by a stranger with a hammer, demanding they remove their masks.

    And here in Washington, D.C., a local store owner was punched in the face by a customer. The group Stop AAPI Hate this week released new numbers showing a substantial rise in hate incidents, more than 6,600 over a one-year period.

    Russell Jeung is the co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. He is also a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. And he joins me now.

    Russell Jeung, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    And tell us, what can you share with us about these numbers? What kinds of incidents are we talking about? Who is being targeted and where?

  • Russell Jeung:

    Thank you, Amna. I'm glad to be here.

    Yes, the numbers are alarming. The surge of racism against Asian Americans has continued from last year to this year. The crimes against Asian Americans, especially the assaults against the elderly, have been heinous.

    Vulnerable populations are targeted. Women get attacked twice as much as men. Youth and elderly are attacked more often. We also know this is a case of racial profiling, that Chinese make up 40 percent of our incident reports, but non-Chinese, those who look East Asian, are also being attacked. And they're racially profiling us and attacking us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This may be an impossible question to answer, but do we know why? Do we know what's fueling these attacks right now?

  • Russell Jeung:

    Oh, yes, I think it's pretty clear.

    Fear of the pandemic got exacerbated by the political rhetoric last year. The term China virus was deadly, because it racialized the virus, and it made the virus Chinese. And it stigmatized Chinese people as being the disease carriers.

    The other factor that was a separate trend is the crimes that we're facing. Asian Americans, especially in low-income areas, have always experienced high victimhood to crimes because of the neighborhoods that they live in.

    And that — in all urban areas, there's been a higher crime rate because of the economic conditions caused by the pandemic. So, the two trends are both being conflated as hate crimes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we know there has been some effort to try to address this increase.

    At the federal level, we know President Biden has taken executive action. At the legislative level, we know Congress has passed some related legislation. There's task forces, too, in major cities, right, to address this.

    But what else can be done to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place?

  • Russell Jeung:

    Yes, that's great. The steps you have discussed are actually hate crimes enforcement, police task force.

    But, again, we want to prevent the crimes before they actually occur, right? And so, for us, to address the racism, we have to have ethnic studies to teach people about different racial groups and to develop empathy. We want to expand civil rights protections, so that people who get harassed in stores, for example, are protected.

    And we want to improve community conditions where violent crime erupts, especially the economic conditions and the resources provided to those neighborhoods.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Russell, this week also saw the launch of TAAF, right, the Asian American Foundation. It's an unprecedented effort led by Sonal Shah, with business leaders like Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo, Joe Tsai, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, sports stars like Naomi Osaka and Jeremy Lin.

    They're putting $250 million into the community in an unprecedented way. Where does that money go, and what kind of difference does that kind of money make towards this effort?

  • Russell Jeung:

    Yes, I think it's a great effort, a needed effort.

    And, again, it's an Asian American-initiated effort because the broader community, other foundations have neglected us. Foundations, we know, have given just a small percent of their dollars to the Asian American community, even though we, again, clearly have needs, clearly have low-income communities.

    So the Asian American community has taken on itself to defend itself. And then, hopefully, what the Asian American Foundation can do is multiply the dollars that they have seeded it with. And they have sent — or they have donated money to Stop AAPI Hate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Russell, the numbers are certainly alarming, but the videos — and many of these attacks are caught on camera — are equally horrifying. And they do a great deal to spread more alarm and fear and deepen that fear within the community.

    I wonder if you can speak to that a little bit, because we're at a place where in some ways no place feels safe for Asian Americans. Have you seen that? Have you heard other people expressing that same sentiment?

  • Russell Jeung:

    Yes, actually, I just felt chills as you mentioned that, how traumatizing it is and how much it's creating a sense of fear and siege among the Asian American community.

    I know, because we have been working with elderly and doing research with them, they're especially concerned and staying indoors for fear of their own safety. So this is a moment of crisis for the Asian American community. I can't underscore how it's created a sense of anxiety and distress.

    And for our youth, as they go back to schools, we're concerned for their — that they may be bullied. So, we really call on government now to really establish policies to address this racism in a comprehensive manner.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Russell Jeung, co-founder of the group Stop AAPI Hate, joining us tonight.

    Thank you for your time.

  • Russell Jeung:

    Thanks, Amna.

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