One year ago today, a shooter targeted three Atlanta-area spas and killed eight people, including six Asian women. Police said Robert Aaron Long was having “a really bad day” and that he was motivated by a sex addiction. “It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”
Here in New York, the Asian community is reeling after a 361 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the last year. In the last two months, we’ve witnessed 40-year-old Michelle Go get pushed in front of a train, 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee brutally stabbed to death in her apartment, and the Asian grandmother QuiYing Ma succumb to her injuries after being attacked with a rock when she was sweeping a sidewalk last fall. Seven Asian women were punched within two hours in different parts of Manhattan. And just last weekend, a 67-year-old woman was punched 125 times, stomped, and spit on by an assailant who called her “Asian bitch.”
Former President Donald Trump unleashed a firestorm of hate when the pandemic hit by coining the term “China virus.” But the failure of society at large to see our community and the suffering we have endured has insidiously contributed to a breeding ground of hate.
I am an Asian woman and racism is not new to me. In fact, I experienced a hate crime just last summer, when a woman shouted racist epithets at me and my daughter as she threw a bottle at us that hit me. Having a child with me did not make me immune. Having a career and two degrees did not make me immune. My identity was invisible, my humanity erased. While I was fortunate that the attack did not leave me seriously injured, I still feel vulnerable every time I am reduced to my features. It is a re-opening of an old and familiar wound.
I did not contact the police because the woman was experiencing mental illness, although perhaps I should have. This act of hate happened and should be part of the record. But something even more painful happened this year, when ABC World News Tonight incorrectly identified me as Michelle Go when I was speaking at a vigil for Christina Yuna Lee. The station apologized to me personally, which I appreciated, but it did not issue the public apology to the Asian community that I wanted to be read on the air. It could have been a teaching moment about why the invisibilization of Asian women is so harmful. Yet ABC’s lack of ownership of their error only further conceals the problem.
Then just last month, the head of NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force was re-assigned after a local news outlet shared the story of an Asian woman who was not taken seriously when she reported a hate crime. The head of the Task Force, who told the woman she shouldn’t have recorded the incident so as not to further provoke her assailant, should have been fired. There is an epidemic of hate crimes against Asians in New York City, and the NYPD has dismissed several of these incidents as potential hate crimes from the onset. We will never stop Asian hate until Asian women are heard and believed in every facet of the criminal justice system.
Which takes me back to the murders of six Asian women and two others last year. The New York Times noted that it can be more difficult to prove hate crimes against Asians because there are no symbols targeted toward our community that are as pervasive as a noose or a swastika. And because it is so hard to prove intent, hate crimes rarely result in conviction, if they even result in charges.
Asians are tired of being told that unprovoked attacks by strangers have nothing to do with how we look. To truly honor the victims of the Atlanta shootings, it is time for a nationwide re-examination of our hate crime laws. For example, a history of fetishizing Asian women is dehumanizing, and should be considered as evidence when trying a hate crime. So should the targeting of Asian neighborhoods and Asian-owned businesses. Furthermore, we should have more oversight over hate crimes units to ensure there is no biased or differential treatment of Asian victims.
I keep going back to that word, eliminated, and thinking about my three young daughters. I refuse to let the world see them as sexual threats to be eliminated. I refuse to let the world fail to see them at all.
Grace Lee is a community organizer and first-generation American running to represent Assembly District 65, which includes Chinatown, in the New York State Assembly.