Attacks on Asian Americans are up. What is the Biden administration doing about it?

WASHINGTON – The concerns President Joe Biden expressed Wednesday following the fatal shootings of Asian Americans in Georgia echoed the comments he’s made since taking office, a tenure that began with an executive action condemning racism and intolerance against Asian Americans.

“I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months,” Biden said. “It is very, very troublesome.”

Since his inauguration, administration officials have reached out to Asian American groups, met with Asian American members of Congress and taken steps to make sure Asian Americans are treated equitably and are not being blamed for the pandemic.

When Biden last week recognized the one-year anniversary of coronavirus shutdowns through his first prime-time address to the nation, he condemned “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”

“It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop,” Biden said.

But it hasn’t. 

A boy takes part in a rally in a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence, at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California, on March 13, 2021. (Photo: RINGO CHIU, AFP via Getty Images)

Hate incidents are up

Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group tracking hate incidents, said they had received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020, compared to roughly 100 incidents annually in previous years.

Advocates have sounded the alarm on recent violent attacks against Asian Americans, including the killing of 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee, and a recent increase in violence against senior citizens across the country. 

Authorities haven’t settled on a motive for Tuesday’s fatal shootings of eight people in Atlanta, including six women of Asian descent.

“Whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are very concerned,” Biden said Wednesday, while noting he’ll have more to say when investigators know more.

Leaders hope for Georgia meeting with the president

Asian American leaders in Georgia hope to meet with Biden when he visits Atlanta on Friday to talk about the recently passed stimulus bill. 

“We would welcome a meeting with him directly to share with him our demands and thoughts during this time,” said Leng Leng Chancey, executive director of the advocacy group 9to5, a national advocacy group for working women.

Zheng Yu Huang, president of the Chinese American leadership group Committee of 100, praised the Biden administration for starting to address the concerns of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. 

“But there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done around education, training, funding and community outreach at the federal, state and local levels to put an end to the anti-Asian xenophobia and hate,” Huang told USA TODAY.

Demonstrators take part in a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence, at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California, on March 13, 2021. (Photo: RINGO CHIU, AFP via Getty Images)

Trump administration blamed

Groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice blame the past administration for having “poured fuel on the fire of anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiment that was slowly burning for years.” President Donald Trump and other officials referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” the “Wuhan virus,” and “kung flu.”

The Biden administration’s condemnation of “anti-Asian hate and violence” is a welcome relief, the group said in a statement. But, it continued, “the work with the new administration is just beginning, and there is much work to be done.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said Biden “will continue to look for ways to elevate and talk about this issue moving forward.”

Related: Congress will hold hearing on anti-Asian violence for the first time in more than 30 years

Biden’s actions so far

She noted that a 100-day review of domestic violent extremism that Biden ordered includes a look at actions against Asian Americans. An unclassified portion of the report released Wednesday described an elevated threat from “racially and ethnically motivated extremists.”

During his first full week in office, Biden signed a memorandum which, in addition to condemning xenophobia, directed the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure the government’s pandemic response is culturally and racially sensitive. That includes “mitigating racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“He felt it was so important to put a marker down,” Psaki said after an incident last month.

The Justice Department was tasked with working with outside groups, as well as state and local agencies, to prevent discrimination, bullying, harassment and hate crimes against Asian Americans — and to better collect data on such incidents.

The Justice Department is in the process of holding “listening sessions,” according to Psaki. Officials who will also be doing so include Susan Rice, the head of Biden’s Domestic Policy Council who is in charge of the administration’s “equity agenda,” and Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.”

Rhetoric is ‘not enough’

Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, credits the new administration with being in regular communication with his group and member organizations. But he will also be looking to see what resources the administration devotes to the issue through its budget requests to Congress. 

“Rhetoric alone will not solve this problem,” Orton told USA TODAY.

Linda Ng, national president of OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, likewise said the administration’s condemnation of hate crimes is “not enough.”

People march during the "We Are Not Silent" rally against anti-Asian hate in response to recent anti-Asian crime in the Chinatown-International District of Seattle, Washington on March 13, 2021. (Photo: JASON REDMOND, AFP via Getty Images)

Ng wants a “high level, coordinated response” that ensures law enforcement is properly trained and incidents are properly reported, works closely with local communities and organizations and sends a “clear, unequivocal message that the government’s priority is to protect our community.”

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have already met with the Justice Department to discuss a rise in hate incidents and “we are right now determining actions against AAPI hate,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who heads the group.

Chu said Biden “has shown tremendous leadership and compassion” but legislation is also needed to improve hate crime reporting.

Aisha Yaqood Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said discrimination dates from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 for immigration and Japanese internment camps during World War II. But she said the killings Tuesday gave attention to more subtle racism perpetrated daily against Asian Americans.

“This incident from yesterday has continued to put additional fear in a lot of our communities,” Mahmood said Wednesday. “It has been a buildup for so many people.”

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