Strategies for Reducing Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
with Jo-Ann Yoo of the Asian American Federation
According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes targeting the Asian American community increased by 339% in 2021.
Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian American Federation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the rise in violence against Asian Americans and strategies for reducing crimes against this population.
April 29, 2022
Anderson: An Asian American woman is killed when a man shoves her in front of an oncoming subway car. A man forces his way into an Asian American woman's apartment, and stabs her more than 40 times before police find her dead. A 67-year-old Asian-American woman is beaten by a man who punches and kicks her 125 times in a brutal attack caught on surveillance video. [ Chanting "Stop Asian hate!" ] These are just some of the latest examples of hate crimes that have Asian Americans on alert. [ Chanting "Stop Asian hate!" ] Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The number of anti-Asian hate crimes grew by 339% in 2021. That's according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. And perhaps just as startling, all of the examples we listed in our intro have taken place since then. Joining me to talk about the rise in violence against Asian Americans is Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation. And Jo-Ann, thank you so much for being here.
Yoo: Thank you for inviting me.
Anderson: So, you know, this recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes is staggering. What are you hearing from members of the community right now, and how are they feeling about everything that's going on?
Yoo: The community's extremely anxious. I think we are certainly a community that is angry, but also in anguish. We're trying to figure out, how do we keep ourselves safe as we get out of our homes to go to work, to put food on the table, to go to school? We're also really frustrated, because this has been going on for a while. The violent nature of these attacks, it's been happening for -- since the COVID lockdown. And there hasn't been a lot of solutions.
Anderson: The spate of crimes just doesn't seem to be slowing. And I'm wondering if you have any sense of what's behind this rise in violence?
Yoo: I think it's certainly COVID, having -- you know, having been home for two years, seeing unprecedented deaths -- COVID deaths in our communities, unemployment. Just seeing where all the cracks are in society, certainly that adds to the -- adds fuel to the fire. People are frustrated, and so, they need to take it out on somebody. But it's also the fact that our community has been invisible for a very long time. You know, one of the things that Asian Americans have to deal with regularly is the the stereotype that we are not Americans, that we are other. My friends and I, we actually have a joke that, when we get together, "How many times this week did you get asked, 'Where are you from?'" "No. Where are you really from?" So, it's the assumption that we're not Americans, and we don't belong here. It's easy to target people that you don't think belong here, and who you don't think are fellow Americans.
Anderson: I know you've said that half the community doesn't trust the police, the other half wants a cop attached to every Asian is, I think, how you put it. Explain the sort of disparity in the community itself when it comes to how these crimes really should be addressed.
Yoo: I don't think our community has gotten together to come up and have these discussions. And so, I think a lot of young people who have seen what happens to other communities -- especially the Black community, communities of color -- are seeing brutality from law enforcement. So, they're saying, "Is this something that we want from our communities? Maybe we need to think about limiting the role of police." Whereas, the elders might feel like this is the way we keep safe, by having people in uniforms patrol our neighborhoods, to be able to be a visible reminder that there is safety in place.
Anderson: So, what is the answer, from your perspective, on how to best reduce these kinds of crimes?
Yoo: So, I think that -- these are the conversations that we need to have. I think the real solution is we do need law enforcement. They need to play an important role. But we also need to look at other solutions to law enforcement, because, sometimes, law enforcement don't take the challenges of our community seriously. We've -- I've heard stories from victims who've told me, "I went to talk to the police officer, and the police officer said, 'Oh, yeah, that's not a hate crime.'" Immediately on the spot. That definitely re-traumatizes the victim. And we are -- for language barrier, for cultural barrier, for maybe because you're an undocumented immigrant, and you're afraid, even though you're a crime victim, people are not reporting to the police. So, we are trying to have the conversations about, what is community safety that can protect our community members, but also to imagine how to support each other, to create a plan for the entire community that keeps everybody safe.
Anderson: It's typically hard to categorize what a hate crime is because it's got a lot to do with sort of proving bias. So, I'm wondering how much that muddies the waters of really coming up with a solution to stop this kind of thing, whether it's against Asians, Jewish people, Black, or Hispanic people living here in this country.
Yoo: I love that question because that's the question I ask often myself. We don't have a set description. It might be different for federal, state, and local. So, what we've been asking for, all the advocates, is, give us a clear definition, so we know what -- what is happening. People need to know their rights. They need to know where to report. But because there is this confusion, exactly what you said, I think that makes for very ineffective communication, very ineffective reporting. So, you know, that is a question for the elected officials.
Anderson: And we have seen vigils, we've seen demonstrations, against Asian hate crimes in many cities here in the United States. But a tremendous amount of media attention also paid at the same time. How do you feel about that? Does that give you hope for the future? Does that give you hope for finding a way to stem this tide of violence?
Yoo: All the media attention gives me tremendous anxiety, because I know that, when the media gaze turns away from what is happening, people will assume that all the anti-Asian hate will have stopped. That's not true. It is ongoing. It is brutal. It is painful to watch. We ask the media to constantly put these stories out there because it's a public safety mechanism to inform people about what is happening in their community. For the rallies, for the vigils, it is an opportunity for the Asian-American community, and our friends, and our fellow Americans, to get together to grieve what is happening right now, and to see the senseless violence in our community aimed at our elders, our sisters, our brothers. It is very, very painful. And all of this violence does does nothing for us as we start to think about how do we build rebuild our country out of COVID?
Anderson: And Jo-Ann, I'm guessing that viewers are going to want to know more about the work that you're doing. What's your website? Where should they go look? Our website is www.AAFederation.org. On the website, there are a lot of resources that we hope people will use. I know that there are safety booklets in different languages. There are training videos. There are upstander trainings that you can watch to keep yourself safe, keep your family safe. We are hoping that people will download them all throughout the country. Safety is not just one jurisdiction. It's universal. And we hope that people who don't live in big urban cities will be able to download this, to be able to create a safety plan for themselves, to be able to share that information with their loved ones.
Anderson: Jo-Ann Yoo of the Asian American Federation. Thank you for your time.
Yoo: Thank you for inviting me for this very important conversation. Anderson; And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community, and across the nation, visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.