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As anti-Asian hate rises, LA groups pledge support to victims and communities

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At a recent anti-hate community workshop in the San Gabriel Valley, around 200 Asian American elders learned basic self-defense moves and breathing techniques to calm the nervous system. Organizers of the event, held in late summer at the Langley Senior Citizen Center in Monterey Park, said it was meant to empower the community, in hopes of keeping them safe against both physical and verbal attacks.

Attendees of the workshop, hosted by non-profits Compassion in SGV and Through Peace, were given safety kits and personal alarms. They connected with leaders, law enforcement and multilingual resources for reporting hate.

“The dynamic has definitely changed in the United States, in terms of how Asians — and our seniors — are being targeted,” said Kevin Leung, head instructor with the Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association, who led the self-defense training. “People need to understand how to defend themselves and to keep themselves safe.”

Though reported anti-Asian hate crimes surged drastically with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continues to rise nationwide, even in “post-pandemic” times. A new report found that nearly half of all AAPIs nationwide have experienced discrimination based on race or ethnicity — yet only 1 in 5 reported it.

  • A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held...

    A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held at the Langley Senior Citizen Center in Monterey Park. The event on Saturday, Aug. 19, was hosted by nonprofits Compassion in SGV and Through Peace, with instruction from Kong’s Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association. (Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV)

  • A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held...

    A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held at the Langley Senior Citizen Center in Monterey Park. The event on Saturday, Aug. 19, was hosted by nonprofits Compassion in SGV and Through Peace, with instruction from Kong’s Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association. (Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV)

  • A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held...

    A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held at the Langley Senior Citizen Center in Monterey Park. The event on Saturday, Aug. 19, was hosted by nonprofits Compassion in SGV and Through Peace, with instruction from Kong’s Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association. (Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV)

  • A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held...

    A free hate crime workshop and self-defense class was held at the Langley Senior Citizen Center in Monterey Park. The event on Saturday, Aug. 19, was hosted by nonprofits Compassion in SGV and Through Peace, with instruction from Kong’s Siu Lum Pai Kung Fu Association. (Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV)

  • Diamond Bar resident David Chow records video while holding a...

    Diamond Bar resident David Chow records video while holding a flag during the Block the Hate Rally presented by Compassion in SGV at Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel, Calif. Saturday, May 22, 2021. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Musical performers at the Block the Hate rally and block...

    Musical performers at the Block the Hate rally and block party hosted by Compassion in SGV at San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park. May 22, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

  • Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San...

    Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park on August 1, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

  • Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San...

    Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park on August 1, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

  • Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San...

    Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park on August 1, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

  • Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San...

    Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park on August 1, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

  • Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San...

    Compassion in SGV hosted a community self-defense workshop in San Gabriel’s Vincent Lugo Park on August 1, 2021. Photo courtesy of Compassion in SGV.

L.A. officials and local groups, seeing these trends, are pledging their support to victims and communities of color.

Through Peace, a new non-profit that helped organize the workshop, is hosting more events around L.A. County as part of its ongoing Hate Crime Safety series. The next workshop on Monday, Oct. 23 at 10:30 a.m. will be held at the Crenshaw Community Center, focusing on safety and mental wellness.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that since March 2020 has tracked over 11,000 nationwide acts of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, released the study this year. Researchers said the goal was to paint “a more complete picture of the discrimination that impacts Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the changes needed to uphold the civil rights that protect us all.”

The coalition hopes to highlight and understand why hate crimes and discrimination against AAPIs continue to happen, and provide policy recommendations for governing bodies to combat hate.

Between March 2020 and June 2021, amid heightened fears during the COVID-19 pandemic, California led all 50 states in the number of reported anti-AAPI hate crimes, with over 3,500 incidents — nearly 40%, the coalition reported. Two-thirds, or 63%, of those were reported by women, and about one-third, 29%, took place at businesses.

The majority of discrimination was verbal harassment or name-calling. 82% of those surveyed said they were discriminated due to their race, ethnicity, national origin, skin color or language.

Fast forward a few short years later — in California, hate crimes rose 20% in 2022, the state Department of Justice reported, but anti-Asian cases dropped 43%. Last year, the Los Angeles Police Department also reported a 15% increase in reported L.A. area hate incidents in 2022, including 33 anti-Asian attacks — a major increase from the seven reported in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.

The surge in AAPI hate took a severe mental toll, as incidents caused widespread fear and anxiety already heightened during the pandemic. Fears also escalated with isolated tragedies such as the 2021 shooting spree at Asian spas in Atlanta, the 2022 targeted attack on a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, and the Monterey Park mass shooting in January, during Lunar New Year.

  • A poster is pictured during a Block the Hate Rally...

    A poster is pictured during a Block the Hate Rally presented by Compassion in SGV at Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel, Calif. Saturday, May 22, 2021. (File photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

  • Activists and community members gathered at Grand Park in downtown...

    Activists and community members gathered at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles for a youth led rally to speak out against the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans, on Saturday, May 8, 2021. The event, “Youth Against Hate,” urged attendees, especially students, to support different groups of people experiencing various forms of hate and discrimination. (File photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • Activists and community members gathered at Grand Park in downtown...

    Activists and community members gathered at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles for a youth-led rally to speak out against the recent hate crimes against Asian Americans, on Saturday, May 8, 2021. The event, “Youth Against Hate,” urged attendees, especially students, to support different groups of people experiencing various forms of hate and discrimination. (File photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • Linda Nguyen, right, a victim of anti-Asian hate, joins members of the...

    Linda Nguyen, right, a victim of anti-Asian hate, joins members of the Vietnamese community and others holding up a banner against Asian hate during a gathering in Fountain Valley on Thursday, March 4, 2021. The gathering brought attention to the growing number of anti-Asian hate crimes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. (File photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Community members walk with elected officials from San Gabriel, Alhambra,...

    Community members walk with elected officials from San Gabriel, Alhambra, Monterey Park and Rosemead, as well as local law enforcement during a rally and march Against Anti-Asian Hate Crimes and Racism from San Gabriel City Hall to Alhambra City Hall in Alhambra on Friday, March 26, 2021. (File photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

  • A woman passes the mural “Together We Are Stronger. Stop...

    A woman passes the mural “Together We Are Stronger. Stop Anti-Asian Hate!” on the Iona Work Spaces building in Alhambra on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. The piece was created by illustrator MariNaomi as part of Los Angeles County’s anti-hate initiative. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Many organizations are pointing to anti-Asian scapegoating – the act of unfairly casting blame on Asians and Americans for societal issues out of their control – as one of the reasons why hate crimes continue to affect AAPI communities.

Candace Cho is managing director of policy and counsel with the AAPI Equity Alliance, an L.A.-based coalition of civil rights organizations advocating for Asian and Pacific Islanders. She recalled the incarceration of Japanese Americans during wartime, and the scapegoating of Muslims and other South Asian communities after 9/11.

“When there’s a war, health crisis or when the economy is hitting the rocks, people will always look for a scapegoat, and they often get communities of color and immigrants, and our communities, unfortunately, fall in that target,” Cho said. “We see that when politicians and other public figures begin to scapegoat Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — that’s correlated with a real rise in hate experienced by our community. We saw it during COVID, and we unfortunately might see it again next year during the election, as political rhetoric gets more inflammatory.”

The AAPI Equity Alliance helped launch the Stop AAPI Hate coalition in early 2020 to collect reports of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination and bullying.

Candace Cho, managing director of policy and counsel at the AAPI Equity Alliance, at the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission meeting in September. (Photo courtesy of AAPI Equity Alliance)
Candace Cho, managing director of policy and counsel at the AAPI Equity Alliance, at the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission meeting in September. (Photo courtesy of AAPI Equity Alliance)

Cho presented the latest study findings at a Sept. 28 L.A. County Human Relations Commission meeting. The most common forms of hate reported were harassment (67%), followed by assault (17%) and shunning (16%), most commonly occurring in public spaces, Cho said.

In California, 4 in 10 Asian American and Pacific Islanders have experienced illegal discrimination, Cho said at the meeting.

She later explained that distinction because “not all forms of discrimination are illegal.”

Cho noted that it “could be easy to dismiss other forms of racialized and bias-motivated harm, that aren’t illegal crimes” — but no matter the level, these “devastating” incidents still significantly impact individuals and the overall community, Cho said.

AAPIs who reported discrimination said they felt more sad, stressed, anxious, or depressed as a result. For many, experiencing discrimination has negatively impacted their sense of self or belonging, according to the study.

“I was reading a report where one person reported that their kid was being so badly bullied that they decided to move states. Another person reported that their neighbor has been harassing them so severely for being Asian, that they’re planning to sell their house and move,” Cho said. “People are making significant life decisions because of their experiences with discrimination.”

Barriers to reporting

The Stop AAPI Hate study found a majority — 60% — of those who experienced discrimination said they found reporting difficult. And 52% of those who did not report what happened to them thought it would not make a difference.

The research pointed out barriers to reporting include a lack of trust in institutional responses, finding few available resources, or not knowing if an act is a hate crime versus a civil rights violation. Many feared retaliation and unwanted attention to themselves or their family, and others felt discouraged from working with police officials.

Over half of respondents said they were more likely to report a hate crime or incident if they knew nothing bad would happen to them or their loved ones as a result.

People also said they would feel more comfortable learning about their rights through in-language resources from community advocates they trust. Six in 10 AAPIs in California want to know more about their civil rights, and how to enforce them.

Partnering with ethnic media, providing multilingual resources and outreach, building trusted relationships with law enforcement and community-based organizations — these are just some of the strategies Stop AAPI Hate recommends for policymakers.

L.A. County and city both have platforms for reporting hate crimes. The LA Civil Rights department, established in 2020, can enforce the city’s Civil and Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, commerce and education. LA vs. Hate, led by the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, can connect people with resources.

Similarly, the state’s new CA vs. Hate media campaign focuses on traditionally harder-to-reach communities, and promises victims: “There’s support when you report.”

Brittney Au, the founder and creative director of Compassion in SGV, remembers the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, feeling “honestly scared to be an Asian living in America.”

“I never thought I would feel that way because I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, and I’ve always been surrounded by other Asians and haven’t faced that kind of discrimination to where it was violent,” Au said.

Wanting to do something for her community, Au has since been a part of anti-hate rallies, helped to organize vigils and workshops, and provided chaperone services for the elderly. Through continued organizing and education, Au hopes that hate crimes will eventually be stopped.

“The fact that more than 11,000 acts of hate against AAPIs have been reported,” she said, “there’s so many others that haven’t been recorded.”

Cho said there’s no “one size fits all solution” to addressing racism or other forms of oppression.

“It’s going to take a lot of tools in the toolbox,” she said. “We want to make sure that we think of hate as not just being interpersonal, and not just putting this on all of us as individuals. But making sure that we understand that some of these forms of hate are born as structural factors — and require institutions to step up whether our governments, public transit or businesses.”

Any victim or witness to a hate incident or crime in California can report incidents online at CAvsHate.org, by calling (833) 866-4283 or 833-8-NO-HATE; Monday through Friday from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Outside of those hours, people can call the 211 hotline for support in more than 200 languages.

At L.A. County’s confidential 211 hotline, people can report hate crimes and incidents, find multilingual resources and support.

Through Peace will be hosting its free community hate crime safety and mental wellness workshop at the Crenshaw Community Center, 1060 Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 23.

Another safety workshop is planned for Friday, Nov. 3 at Angelus Plaza, 255 S Hill Street, at 9:30 a.m. Visit throughpeace.org for more information.

Staff writer Allyson Vergara and City News Service contributed to this report. 

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