Article by Shania DeGroot | May 14, 2021
The last time she was assaulted, in February of 2020, Natty Jumreonrnvong was on her way to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, where she studies. “He kicked and dragged me across the concrete floor,” said the 26-year-old Asian woman. She says the attacker, who was wearing a mask and a hoodie, called her “Chinese virus.”
A month before that, Jumreornvong says she was harassed by a woman who told her to “go back to China.” And it had happened also during her clinical rotation at Mount Sinai hospital. “I’ve had a patient call me ‘Kung Flu,’” she said.
Jumreornvong, who now takes a car service to the hospital because she is scared of walking and taking the subway, is just one of several hate victims at her workplace. So many Asian American and Pacific Islander nurses and doctors at her hospital have been attacked that they started a GoFundMe campaign for pepper sprays and self defense courses.
The same is happening inside other places, like schools. Alice Tsui, a music teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was stopped in the halls of the public school where she teaches last year by students who thought she had the Coronavirus. She was told many students had heard the rumor. Tsui felt “extreme rage, not at the children, but at the systems of the world that had led my students to say this,” she said.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked nearly 150 percent in 2020, with most attacks taking place in New York City and Los Angeles. The verbal and physical violence is increasingly taking place in public, and also online.
The Asian community is divided on how to address Asian hate crimes and protect the community. Many have expressed support for defunding the police after George Floyd was killed by officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis last year. Others call for more police and the funding of the Asian hate crime task force.
Rachel Hu, an activist at the Answer Coalition, an anti-war and social justice group, thinks the police cannot solve anti-Asian hatred because it doesn’t have a history of good relationship with the community. Last December, Christian Hall, a 19-year-old Chinese American man, was shot and killed by state troopers in Philadelphia. Tommy Le, a 20-year-old Burien man, was fatally shot by a King County sheriff’s deputy in 2017 when the police mistook a pen he was holding for a knife.
At a March 25 press conference, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea announced two initiatives to combat assaults, including an increase in police officers in plainclothes. “The next person you target, whether it’s through speech, menacing activity or anything else, walking along a sidewalk or on a train platform, may be a plainclothes New York City police officer. So think twice,” he said.
Ryan Shen, a member of Asians 4 Abolition, a New York City non-profit against mass incarceration, believes the problem is that many people are lacking basic necessities like food, shelter and healthcare. “They are upset. If we start taking care of people, they would not need to act out, he said.
This is not the first time that China and its people are seen as a threat to American society. Hu, from the Answer Coalition, believes the anti-Asian sentiment happening now can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, when many Americans began to feel threatened by an increase in immigration from China. “All of these scenarios that I kept seeing unfolding during COVID were all variations of the same racist yellow peril garbage that we saw in this country for hundreds of years,” she said.
The anti-Asian sentiment is impacting many people in the community, even if they are not the victims of attacks themselves. According to the Asian American and Pacific Islander organization (AAPI), Asian business owners have lost about 60-70 percent in revenue in 2020, with many stores closing down temporarily or permanently, Protect Chinatown had said.
While anti-Asian attacks continue, they are trying to help the community against them. Protect Chinatown, an organization that started as an effort to bring protection to members of the Asian community, says people should leave the house with a family member or neighbor, be aware of where you walk, avoid streets that are busy and establish a line of contact about general neighborhood safety.
Kevin Law, a Protect Chinatown representative, says senior citizens are particularly vulnerable because they value independence and try not to burden family members. “This could result in not reporting incidents, not asking for help leaving the home and staying silent about certain issues,” he said.