The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already prevalent issue in our country, racism against Asian Americans. Reports indicating the surge in hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community continue as people report more often, allowing data to be more accurate. But while each report indicates alarming rates, newly republished data by the FBI has found that the percentage difference between crimes reported in 2019 compared to 2020 is a lot than what data previously indicated.
In a previous report released in August, the FBI reported that hate crimes targeting people of Asian descent in the U.S. rose by nearly 70% last year compared to the number of such incidents in 2019. While this data is alarming, newly republished data by the FBI found that hate crimes actually rose by 76% in 2020. The correction is due to an error in reporting Ohio’s statistics, indicating that the first report’s data was incomplete. The new report was published Monday after the error was resolved.
The original report indicated that more than 10,000 people reported hate crimes to law enforcement, the highest tally of reported hate crimes since 2008. Despite fewer agencies reporting hate crime incidents, the number represents the highest level of hate crimes in over 12 years.
The agency defines hate crimes as crimes “motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity.” According to the FBI data released Monday, more than 60% of hate crimes in the United States in 2020 were carried out on the basis of an individual’s race.
“Every hate crime is an attack on the community,” Jay Greenberg, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division, told ABC News.
He added that: “Because a hate crime is defined as a violent or property crime with a bias motivation, that crime could be categorized a number of different ways. We would like the public to reach out to us if they believe that they are a victim of a hate crime. It’s not for the public to make that determination; we will work with our state and local partners and help determine how best to investigate that.”
Out of the total 8,052 single-bias incidents reported, 279 hate crime incidents included those against people who identify of Asian descent. This compares to were 158 incidents reported in 2019. The previous report in August included 7,759 criminal hate crime incidents. According to the latest data, more than half of the offenders were white and while the highest rise between 2019 and 2020 has been against the AAPI community, Greenberg noted most hate crimes are directed at African Americans.
The increase is mainly being connected to racists and xenophobes blaming Asian Americans for the current pandemic.
Despite legislation against Asian American hate being passed for the first time this year, xenophobia has been present in the U.S. for generations. It only got worse last year during Donald Trump’s term as president. Trump consistently blamed China for the pandemic, which furthered anti-Asian sentiment already present in some communities.
His spread of COVID-19 misinformation and use of xenophobic language like “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus,” and “Kung Flu” have been connected to a rapid surge in hate crimes nationwide. As people were forced to stay at home due to safety measures in place, they took their frustration out on the AAPI community, who they blamed for the virus, a report found according to Daily Kos.
As data continues to be compiled, advocates have consistently noted that the numbers are underreported and must be significantly higher than indicated. The revision to the FBI’s report from August is a clear indication of this.
“While the numbers in this report are shocking, we know that they are not even close to the complete picture,” Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in August. According to The Washington Post, Chu credited the rise in hate crimes to political leaders’ “increasingly racist and xenophobic rhetoric.” She noted the FBI’s report “must be a wake-up call to all who irresponsibly spread fear and anger in our communities that they are putting lives at risk.”
While the report focuses on hate crimes impacting all races and ethnicities nationally and indicates an overall slow rise in hate crimes, data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino has found that hate crimes against Asian Americans surged in 2020 in at least 15 cities, Daily Kos reported. As the data was further reviewed, reports indicated that crimes against Asian Americans rose by 169% when comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.
According to Regina Thompson, the head of the FBI’s victim services unit, hate crimes are often reported differently than other crimes because of the reactions victims face. She explained that hate crimes are unique because it is a direct assault on someone’s identity and individuality, which may take individuals time to process.
“It really strikes at the fundamental core of who the person is, which makes it very different from some of the other violent crimes,” she told ABC News. “It is an attack on something that is within the person’s identity, something that’s very immutable about them and often something that they can’t even change. So that has a very deep psychological effect.”
Most crimes against the AAPI community occur against the elderly and women. To better address the increased number of crimes occurring against the AAPI community, the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA), an advocacy group, released an online reporting tool to allow people to report incidents of violence or harassment in 29 languages. The tool will collect more accurate data about anti-Asian hate crimes by enabling individuals to use native languages for fuller, more accurate reports.
The AAPI community needs our support now more than ever, whether it be checking in on our family and friends, spreading awareness of COVID-19 misconceptions, or contacting members of Congress to do more against anti-Asian hate. Check out this guide on resources and ways to support the AAPI community and our Asian friends. Hate is the real virus, and we must end it.