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Unpacking The Surge In Violence Against Asian Americans

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, harassment and violence against Asian Americans has grown. The racist language former President Donald Trump used to describe the pandemic's origins in China didn't help. And now there appears to be a growing number of attacks against older Asian Americans. At least one person has died from their injuries. Bettina Makalintal wrote about these events for VICE, and she joins us now.

Hi there.

BETTINA MAKALINTAL: Hi there. Thank you so much for having me today.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about these violent attacks. What's been happening in these last few weeks?

MAKALINTAL: Of course. So the current conversation was kicked off by an incident on January 28. Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old man from Thailand, was taking his routine morning walk in San Francisco when, out of nowhere, he was violently pushed to the ground by a 19-year-old attacker. As his family describes him, Vicha was nearly blind. He was gentle, and he was beloved. And he had two young grandchildren in whose lives he was very present. His family announced he died two days later as a result of the injuries from that fall.

A few days later, on January 30, a 91-year-old Asian man in Chinatown in Oakland was forcefully pushed to the ground by an unknown attacker. And across the country, on February 3, a 61-year-old Filipino man in Manhattan was slashed across the face by a stranger on the subway. He told a local news site that he was scared because he thought he was going to die, and nobody on the train helped him. But this was made clear to the Asian American community - is not only that we are being targeted, but specifically that the senior citizens in our community are being targeted and face the threat of violent racism.

SHAPIRO: So these events have happened in the Bay Area, in New York, in a variety of places. How are cities and city leaders responding?

MAKALINTAL: So city leaders have been responding, especially in San Francisco, by denouncing these attacks, especially because Lunar New Year is coming up this weekend. There have been recent reports that they're increasing police presence in the areas to survey the areas in light of these attacks.

SHAPIRO: I know that within Asian American communities, there's been a lot of anger and fear. Tell me about what specifically activists and organizations are calling for right now. What do they want to see happen?

MAKALINTAL: First and foremost, activists and community members are asking for attention to these issues. I think it has been clear to us that there has been a rising tide of anti-Asian sentiment. And this has been something that the Asian American community has been dealing with since the start of the pandemic. Many of these incidents have been reported locally but not necessarily reported in a great extent in national publications. So I think a lot of people are asking for a national spotlight and asking for allies to come out and publicly denounce this racism and this violence that we're experiencing.

SHAPIRO: Violent crime has grown over the last year in many big cities. What makes officials conclude that these are targeted hate crimes rather than part of that broader wave?

MAKALINTAL: Absolutely. So in March of 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center was established in response to this growing xenophobia and anti-Chinese sentiment that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Just within March and June 2020 alone, they recorded over 2,100 hate incidents against Asian Americans. Those ranged from verbal altercations in public and luckily, in smaller part, those - that has involved some physical attacks as well. As the Ratanapakdee family wrote in their GoFundMe, this isn't the first time that they've experienced, you know, anti-Asian racism over the course of the pandemic. But it is unfortunately the first time that it has turned deadly for them.

So the fear is that - in our community is that we are at threat as a whole. But it is especially scary to be concerned that the most vulnerable members of our community - senior citizens, our families and our elders - are at risk of these violent threats out of nowhere. All of these have happened completely unprompted, it seems, by people who were just walking around in public or taking the subway. None of them have been doing anything out of the ordinary, just doing routine daily life.

SHAPIRO: I mentioned the way that former President Trump contributed to anti-Chinese rhetoric by using phrases like the Wuhan virus. President Biden has directed federal agencies to combat racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders specifically. Do you think that's likely to make a difference?

MAKALINTAL: I think that at the very least, it is helpful to have a public denouncement from the president of this anti-Asian racism. I'm not sure personally that it does anything specifically. However, I think it is very important to have a president who is not actively fueling the fire on this Chinese virus, Wuhan virus rhetoric, which has no doubt caused a lot of people who are racist against Asian Americans to associate the ill effects of the pandemic with Asian people in the United States in general.

SHAPIRO: That's Bettina Makalintal, staff writer at VICE.

Thank you for speaking with us.

MAKALINTAL: Thank you so much for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.