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An overdue conversation about black-on-Asian violence

The frequency and brutality of anti-Asian violence have made “Stop Asian Hate” a popular hashtag and protest slogan this year. Still, America has yet to grapple with a core part of the problem: black-on-Asian crime and racism.

Two of the latest possible hate crimes took place in New York City. Early this month, a female black suspect struck a 31-year-old Chinese woman in the head with a hammer in midtown Manhattan. In late April, in East Harlem, a black man viciously attacked 61-year-old Yao Pan Ma as he was collecting used cans and bottles. As Ma fell to the ground, the attacker stomped on his head multiple times.

Tragically, such horrendous crimes have now become commonplace in major urban centers. Notable attacks have occurred in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. Often, the victims are defenseless, the attacks unprovoked, and the culprits not white.

Political leaders, activists, and the media have widely attributed the rise in hate crimes to former President Donald Trump’s controversial use of the terms “China virus” or “kung flu.” But did Trump really inspire racially motivated violence in heavily Democratic areas and from demographic groups that overwhelmingly opposed him? His accusers have no answer.

History, however, presents inconveniences that cannot be ignored. Before the pandemic and before Trump’s presidency, anti-Asian violence had existed in major urban locales. It looked disturbingly like today’s attacks. Instead of crying racism, local leaders of these deep-blue areas used to bend over backward to deny any possibility of a racial motive. National leaders used to pay no attention.

In 2018, when neither ordinary people nor Trump had heard of the coronavirus, blacks committed more hate crimes against Asians more than any other race, according to national hate crime statistics compiled by the Justice Department. Figures for 2020 are not yet available.

A previous wave of despicable anti-Asian violence in the San Francisco Bay Area is also illuminating. In January 2010, six black male teenagers kicked and beat 83-year-old Huan Chen after he disembarked at a light rail bus stop in San Francisco. They bashed his head to the ground and fled the scene laughing as Chen laid bleeding. He died two months later.

In April of the same year, two black teenagers punched 59-year-old Tian Sheng Yu in downtown Oakland. They also assaulted his son before and afterward. The elder Yu died from his injuries. The criminals later said they just “felt like hitting someone.”

A survey conducted by the San Francisco Police Department in 2008 revealed that 85% of the city’s violent crimes were black-on-Asian, a figure officials in this notoriously liberal city confronted with “squeamishness.”

In response to the horrific attacks of 2010, then-San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon, now district attorney of Los Angeles, insisted that the attacks against Asians were mere “crimes of opportunity,” not instances of racial targeting.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did not appear to notice and certainly did not blame white supremacists for the crimes taking place in her district, as she did earlier this year. While she, President Joe Biden, and other Democrats have eagerly labeled today’s anti-Asian attacks as manifestations of hate, they see no irony in Democratic politicians’ abject refusal to do the same before Trump’s presidency. Just as in the past, they will not mention the race of today’s nonwhite assailants.

The discomfort with even saying the word “black” makes their “Stop Asian Hate” rhetoric appear utterly phony to many Asian Americans, who are all too familiar with violent assaults from black perpetrators.

Though the crimes are not always inspired by hate, they are often intertwined with a criminal’s version of racial profiling, which targets the victim’s smaller size, poor English skills, likelihood of carrying cash, and reluctance to report crimes to the police.

They also take place in the backdrop of widespread black-on-Asian racial epithets and harassment that mainstream society has ignored or been ignorant of until this pandemic. In my own experience, I have stood next to an elderly Chinese woman in inner-city Oakland as black teenagers crept up behind her to scream their imitation of the Chinese language. The victim was my late grandmother. I have seen a black woman berate an Asian man as a “f***ing Chinese person” on a Greyhound bus traveling between New York and Washington, D.C. The recipient of the verbal abuse was Korean. I have witnessed a young black woman loudly proclaim on a Manhattan-bound No. 7 subway train from Queens: “Man, I f***ing hate Indian people. They smell, too, because I know they don’t wash.” Her targets were a South Asian family in traditional garb, with children in tow.

Almost always, bystanders of all colors, including Asians, look away in silence, but the racism on public display makes it crucial to conduct an inquiry about racial intent in black-on-Asian crimes committed with no profit or other apparent motive.

Too many leaders have refused to engage in such inquiries. Today, America must not only inquire but engage in a long overdue, honest conversation about the prevalence of black crime and the existence of racism among nonwhite Americans. The goal is not to vilify an entire race for the crimes of individuals, nor is it to absolve individuals of other races who commit racist acts. It is to find a pathway to reconciliation and possible solutions for preventing the tragedies that befell Ma, Chen, Yu, and far too many others.

This article was first published at Washington Examiner.

Ying Ma is the author of Chinese Girl in the Ghetto, and a board member for ERFA PAC.

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