The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in reports of violence and harassment against Asian Americans, an unfortunate trend that is starting to be reflected in Los Angeles Police Department data.
There were five reported hate crimes involving anti-Asian bias in the first three months of 2020, according to Det. Orlando Martinez, the LAPD’s hate crimes coordinator. Two of these crimes were specifically motivated by COVID-19 fears. Though the numbers are small, they represent an increase from the same period last year, when only one anti-Asian hate crime was reported to the police.
The increase in reports of anti-Asian bias came about during a period when the overall number of hate crimes in the city was fairly steady — 71 during the first three months of 2020 compared with 69 in the first quarter of last year.
China was the first country to be hit by the coronavirus after an early case was detected in the city of Wuhan last December. This fueled the mistaken notion that Asian residents are more likely to spread COVID-19 around the world, including in the United States. President Donald Trump and other politicians repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”
The attacks against Asian Americans around the country ranged in severity from verbal abuse or being purposefully coughed on to one man allegedly stabbing an entire family at a store in Midland, Texas. These incidents, along with coronavirus fears, leave many Asian people fearful for their personal safety.
The hate crimes reported to the LAPD include multiple cases of simple assault, including one that took place on Feb. 4 at a junior high school in Studio City against a 12-year-old male student. The suspect was his classmate.
Despite the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes known to the LAPD, there are still concerns that such incidents are underreported. “Reporting bias-related crimes will assist us in deploying our officers in the most effective ways possible to help keep your fellow Angelenos safer and keep predators off the streets,” Martinez told Crosstown in an email.
Many instances of discrimination involving racial bias as a motivation do not result in a criminal report, however. The LAPD tracks those hate incidents as well, in order to inform policing tactics.
The LAPD received 47 hate-incident reports during the first three months of 2020, two of which involved anti-Asian bias and one of which involved COVID-19 fears.
New ways of keeping track
Last year, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission launched a 211 hotline for residents to report hate incidents. The hotline is part of the county’s goal of getting an expanded picture of discrimination in the county, “and does not require you to go to law enforcement because we know many of the targeted communities, like immigrants — that’s not their most comfortable choice in many cases,” said Robin Toma, the commission’s executive director.
Recently, a new hate-incident reporting tool called Stop AAPI Hate was launched by Russell Jeung, a San Francisco State University professor of Asian American Studies, in partnership with the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action. From March 19 to April 1, Stop AAPI Hate received 1,135 reports, 34 of which were from the City of Los Angeles.
More than 62% of those reports were from women and half also took place at a business. Half of the incidents reported also involved verbal harassment.
Stop AAPI Hate has been able to capture incidents arising specifically out of stereotypes surrounding Asians and COVID-19, such as instances where the perpetrator coughed on an Asian person.
“You would never think about that before, that people would harass people in this particular way that’s a public health hazard,” Jeung said. “But it makes sense in the context of the disease.”
How we did it: We examined publicly available LAPD data on reported crime for 2019 and 2020, as well as numbers given to us by the LAPD’s Hate Crimes division. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.
The LAPD does periodically update past crime reports with new information, which sometimes leads them to recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database. We try to update our reporting when new data becomes available.
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