Washington, D.C.: Benjamin F. Wilson, Chair of the Environmental Law Institute’s Board, and Scott Fulton, ELI President, released the following statement in light of the tragic events that unfolded in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this week.
The murder in Atlanta on Tuesday of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, put in grim relief the recent surge of crime against Asian Americans. While there are mixed reports about whether the attacks were racially or gender motivated, their connection to a deeply troubling trend is undeniable.
According to a new report issued by the group Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, over the last year there have been documented 3,795 racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans. Of these, 68% were verbal, 21% were shunning, and 11% were physical assaults. It should come as no surprise that most observers believe there have, in fact, been far more acts of violence than those recorded in the report. More information about the report is available in this article from the Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-03-16/anti-asian-hate-pandemic.
These current outrageous acts have both historical roots and modern catalysts. Many in our Asian American communities have experienced racial prejudice in the past in various forms. Some recall that their families were subjected to the Chinese Exclusion Act and to the Internment of Japanese Americans.
During World War II, there were numerous stories of the impact of the Japanese American Internment. None more poignant than the statement of Kiyo Sato, from Kiyo's Story: A Japanese-American Family's Quest for the American Dream (emphasis added):
We have no one to go to for help. Not even a church. Anything goes, now that President Roosevelt signed the Order to get rid of us. How can he do this to his own citizens? No lawyer has the courage to defend us. Caucasian friends stay away. . . . There is not a more lonely feeling than to be banished by my own country. There is no place to go.
The recent resurgence of white supremacy, combined with anti-Asian messaging around the pandemic projected by some politicians and amplified by elements of the media, along with social media hate mongering, are fueling a dangerous resurgence of these historical injuries, once again leaving Asian Americans vulnerable in their own country. It falls to all of us to speak out against this kind of violence and hatred, and to hold to account public officials and media outlets that foment and tolerate such violence, against this or any other group.
There are tools avoidable to help find our voices in such circumstances, for example, the bystander intervention training offered by Hollaback (https://www.ihollaback.org/), a website that works with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) to address harassment against Asian Americans. In addition, there are emerging grassroots crowdfunding sites that raise funds for specific anti-xenophobic causes. Support for these grassroots organizations is vital.
It is beyond obvious that the pandemic and resulting economic hardship have increased the pressure that we all feel. The acrimonious debate around political issues and the propagation of false narratives have created an atmosphere where “fighting words” are often tolerated and violence is often excused or rationalized. If that is the extent of our response, we are lost. Rather, we must insist on the aggressive prosecution of hate crimes. Now, more than ever, we need Rule of Law, its demand for equal protection, and its reminder that this land is for all of us or for none of us.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us to ensure that there is always a place to go for Kiyo and others like her who are subjected to hatred and prejudice.