In Brooklyn, New York, an Asian woman suffered an apparently race-based acid attack while taking out her garbage on April 5. A few weeks earlier in Texas, a man targeted and stabbed a Burmese-American man and his two children, ages 2 and 6, at a Sam’s Club. He said he had attempted to kill the family because he believed they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” One of the children had a laceration wound from his ear across his eye.
These are among the worst examples of thousands of anti-Asian incidents that have been reported since the Covid-19 crisis began. Two weeks after launching its Coronavirus Anti-AAPI Racism Incident Report platform in mid-March, a coalition of Asian-American groups has received over 1,100 reports of incidents of coronavirus-related attacks and racial discrimination. Many more cases likely go unreported.
United States President Donald Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” may have fanned the flames, but although he has stepped back from using the term and issued a tweet in support of “our Asian-American community,” he has not directed a strong governmental response towards protecting Asians and people of Asian heritage. (Notably, although the US is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Trump hasn’t nominated a representative to the treaty’s monitoring body.)
Still, federal government agencies can act on their own to address this upsurge in racism. The US Commission on Civil Rights has recently raised concerns about the new racism and violence. Additionally, the Department of Education has issued guidance to educators, directing them to protect students at risk of anti-Asian harassment, after a 16-year-old Asian-American boy was attacked by his classmates and hospitalized. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has stated that during Covid-19, protecting civil rights and investigating hate crimes remain a high priority. But the FBI should also set up a task force to focus on the specific new problems associated with Covid-19 and better coordinate with local and state officials.
Federal agencies that have stayed silent should also work to protect people from Covid-19 related bigotry. Racism against Asian-Americans is real, and it is dangerous. The US government needs to take it more seriously.