The disturbing uptick in Covid-related hate incidents directed at Asian Americans — and clashes that have arisen during demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd — will be keys to a virtual community meeting to be led next week by the Orange County Human Relations Commission.
Since March, when Californians began to feel the social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, OC Human Relations and other groups have tracked a rise in local attacks on Asian Americans. Most reports involved verbal assaults or shunning, and they’ve been classified as hate incidents or non-criminal acts of hateful expression.
One of 60 Covid-related hate cases that OC Human Relations has tracked so far this year was an alleged hate crime — a category that’s considered more severe than a hate incident or a hate expression — and the apparent victim in that case was a Black man, according to information provided by Norma Lopez, the commission’s executive director.
In that incident, OC Human Relations describes how a man riding a bus reported being coughed on and spat on for wearing a face mask. The man reported that his assailant carried a small bat, used the N-word, and said “get out of my face before I break your kneecaps.”
But Lopez said that between January and April, 60 percent of the hate activity tracked by OC Human Relations was related to the pandemic and targeted Asian Americans.
Orange County is home to the nation’s third largest Asian American population, with a little over one in five of the county’s nearly 3.2 million residents identified as Asian, according to 2019 Census Bureau population estimates.
“We are still seeing Covid-related incidents, but not at the same rate,” Lopez said, adding that in the month of September, two of five hate incidents reported to the commission were Covid-related.
The targeting of Asian Americans in Orange County also is reflected in reports to the Stop AAPI Hate website, an initiative undertaken by the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. The council’s executive director, Manjusha P. Kulkarni, said this week that 63 incidents were reported to Stop AAPI Hate by individuals in Orange County between March 19 and Aug. 26.
Nearly one-third of the Orange County incidents (20 reports) cited by Stop AAPI involved hate directed at Korean Americans, and close to 29 percent, or 18 incidents, were reported by people of Chinese descent. Vietnamese Americans were the target of eight incidents, or 12.7 percent.
Considering that the pandemic is far from over, and that hate incidents and crimes typically are “grossly” under-reported, Lopez said the recently slowed rate of Covid-related hate incidents reported to OC Human Relations “doesn’t mean much because we are still in the middle” of the pandemic.
The virtual listening session scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 6, will provide a public forum to address such incidents. But it also will include discussion of broader tensions between police and protesters at demonstrations over the past few months in support of Black Lives Matter. Those demonstrations have included heated clashes between protesters and counter-protesters, including, in some cases, people being struck by cars speeding through crowds.
One of the first Covid-related hate incidents in Orange County involved two teenage girls at Bolsa Grande High in Garden Grove who created a video record of themselves laughing and shouting “coronavirus” at student performers who wore Vietnamese outfits during a March 6 cultural assembly. In video that circulated on social media, the girls, both described as Latina, also could be seen harassing another Asian student and making fun of a traditional Asian hat.
What happened at Bolsa High attracted national attention, but other incidents are occurring outside of public scrutiny. These include the bulk of Covid-related reports compiled by an OC Human Relations hate prevention specialist, such as:
- A Korean man who coughed at a fast food restaurant and was told by the man standing behind him, “Because of you I’m getting sick, go back to your country.” The report says the incident nearly ended with a physical altercation.
- An Asian Man who walked into a grocery store and was told “F… Chinese.”
- An Asian family who found fliers outside their home and on their car that read, “You guys are Chinese Viruses. Get out of our country!!! Stay away from our kids. Stay away from our pets.”
- A Facebook post sent to an Asian person that included the statement “you guys are so inhumane, disgusting, contaminated, filthy f …”
Advocates suggest the phrase “China virus” — favored currently by some people in positions of authority when referring to the coronavirus pandemic, including President Trump, who used the term as recently as Tuesday night’s presidential debate — could spark incidents.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of getting elected officials to ensure the language they are sending to the community is inclusive and does not perpetuate hateful rhetoric,” Lopez said.
She added that public officials using such language send a signal that the mindset behind it is acceptable.
Join the conversation
Called “Fear Driven Hate: Understanding Our Implicit Biases & the Community Experience,” the Zoom gathering on Tuesday is scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m. and up to 300 people can attend. Registration is free at forms.gle/T5S6irAcpLt9Zdbf6. The last day to sign up is Friday, Oct. 2.
The first part of the Zoom session, led by Cal State Fullerton criminal justice professor Christine L. Gardiner, will focus on how subconscious ideas and attitudes — so-called “implicit bias” — are formed over time and can affect behavior. Lopez said such biases can surface during times of fear and panic and help fuel hateful rhetoric and action.
Attendees will break into small group sessions to talk about any hate-induced personal experiences they’ve had and what needs to happen in the community to bring about healing. Lopez said another listening session is likely in January, perhaps to discuss solutions that grow out of Tuesday’s gathering.
“Hopefully we’ll get ideas about how to engage and work together.”
Source: Orange County Register