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Asian Americans report rise in racist attacks amid pandemic

As coronavirus has spread across the U.S., so have reports of violence against people of Asian descent, and the FBI warns a surge in hate crimes could be yet to come. These fears have led to the creation of a website for reporting such attacks -- and it has registered more than 1,000 incidents in less than two weeks. Amna Nawaz talks to Cynthia Choi of Chinese for Affirmative Action.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As reports of coronavirus have spread across the U.S., so have incidents of anti-Asian violence.

    Amna Nawaz has more on that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The coronavirus' origin in China has caused a backlash against Asian-Americans in the first two months since the first positive diagnosis here. From schoolyards, trips to the grocery store, some Asian-Americans have reported verbal and physical attacks. And the FBI has warned of a potential surge in hate crimes still to come.

    Beverly Liang told the "NewsHour" about her trip on the New York City subway.

    Beverly Liang He yelled at me on the train and said: "You people brought this virus here," before going to another part of the train car.

    And I found that really unsettling. My parents, me, my friends are all really on edge right now and kind of seeing how people react to us in public.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Stories like Beverly's led to the creation of Stop AAPI Hate, an online hate crime reporting tool that has registered more than 1,000 incidents in less than two weeks.

    Cynthia Choi is the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. She helped launch the reporting Web site, and she joins me now.

    Cynthia, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thanks for being here.

    What specifically are people telling you? Included in some of the reports on your site, people will talk about being spat upon, about having things thrown at them.

    I always like to mention, when we talk about race in America, we have to remember Asian-Americans are the most diverse racial group, right? So, you're talking about dozens and dozens of different kinds of identities and ethnicities all under this one umbrella group.

    And one of the most fascinating things about your report, I found, was that 61 percent of all reports were from non-Chinese people. Did that surprise you?

  • Cynthia Choi:

    Yes and no.

    Obviously, the target has been Chinese, and the assumption that those who are being victimized are of Chinese descent. But our report shows that it's affecting and impacting all Asian-Americans, and for the simple fact that there might not be a recognition of distinctions, but the fact that it's the Asian face, it's the perception that we're foreigners and that, again, we're all hosts of this infectious disease.

    And that's what's so troubling about it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now, Cynthia, I talked to leaders earlier in the month in the Chinese-American community in San Francisco, and I remember them telling me that they didn't want to report any of these kinds of discriminatory or racist attacks because they didn't want to rock the boat.

    I wonder if you're worried that these numbers are you're seeing right now are actually lower than what's really happening on the ground?

  • Cynthia Choi:

    Absolutely.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's actually happening on a daily basis, and that we need to do better, I think, to reach those impacted populations, especially those that are less likely to report incidents to various agencies and are hesitant to report to law enforcement because of negative experiences or the feeling that nothing can be done about these incidents of hate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Cynthia, I have got to ask you about some of the rhetoric coming from the highest office in the land.

    President Trump himself has publicly referred to the virus, linking it to China, despite that health experts here and across the world have said that that kind of rhetoric is dangerous.

    I want to play for you really quickly his remarks from a recent briefing. This was on March 26.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I talk about the Chinese virus. And I mean it. That's where it came from.

    You know, if you look at Ebola, if you look at all — or Lyme, right, Lyme, Connecticut, you look at all these different horrible diseases, they seem to come with a name, with a location. And this was a Chinese virus.

    But I don't have to say it, if they feel so strongly about it. We will see.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Cynthia, when you see the reports people are submitting to your online reporting tool, is there a way to link that kind of rhetoric to what people are experiencing?

  • Cynthia Choi:

    Well, we think that his insistence in the past in using or referencing the Chinese virus or other administration officials referring to it as the Wuhan virus certainly exacerbates the situation.

    And we know from our firsthand accounts on this tracker that we have individual who are mimicking the president's words, parroting them, I should say, and that they're also individuals who've reported their interactions of defending the president's words.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Cynthia, I should mention just this afternoon former presidential candidate Andrew Yang published an op-ed talking about the fact that, despite the fact that 17 percent of America's doctors are of Asian descent, are on the front lines of fighting this right now, people are scared and they need someone to blame.

    That fear is not going away anytime soon. We know the pandemic will be something we're dealing with for a while.

    I'm wondering if you're worried about the long-term effects of this, how you think this kind of fear and the blame that people feel they need to assign will play out over the months and the years ahead?

  • Cynthia Choi:

    That's a really great question.

    One thing that I do want to point out is that, throughout U.S. history, whenever there is a public health crisis or, in wartime, different groups can be scapegoated and blamed. And, certainly, that's been the experience of Asian-Americans, Muslims, African-Americans. The Latinx community have been subjected to that.

    And we do believe that long after we can resume normalcy, and we beat the virus, we are very, very concerned in the Asian-American community that this will have a lasting impact.

    We have yet to understand the full extent of what it will mean to come out on the other side. We don't think that the anti-Asian sentiment that we're seeing now is going to go away, and we're going to need to address that as a society.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will, indeed.

    That is Cynthia Choi, the executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, joining us tonight.

    Thank you.

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