U.S. Asians, harassed over coronavirus, push back on streets, social media

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A spike in harassment of Asian-Americans since the coronavirus pandemic began has led community activists in the United States to fight back – forming street patrols, rallying on social media, and supporting each other online.

Asians of varying national backgrounds have suffered a surge of attacks this year, which activists linked to the pandemic’s emergence in China. Some said they feared harassment could worsen in a U.S. election year, with U.S.-China tensions ratcheting up over trade, Hong Kong and the coronavirus.

“When China is made the enemy, people who look like Chinese are the enemy. The economy is tanking, people are dying. They’re angry and fearful and want to take it out on Asian Americans even more,” said Russell Jeung, professor of Asian-American studies at San Francisco State University.

Since March 19, over 1,800 cases of harassment related to the coronavirus pandemic have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a website Jeung created with two advocacy groups.

Nine out of 10 victims were targeted because of their race, with 37% of incidents taking place in public areas, the organization said. Verbal harassment and shunning occurred in over 90% of the cases. Victims were physically assaulted, or coughed or spat on, in some 15% of cases.

Some of the harassment has taken place inside of stores, Jeung said, adding that Stop AAPI Hate is working with retailers to figure out how to ensure safe access for customers.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights this week launched a multilingual campaign to combat COVID-19-related discrimination after it received over 350 such complaints from Feb. 1 to May 15. Of these, 133, or 37%, targeted Asians. That compared with just 11 complaints of discrimination targeted at Asians during the same period in 2019.

The FBI has warned of a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to media reports citing internal documents.

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