Op-ed: The importance of standing tall against hate

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Last week we once saw hate turn deadly, when a gunman went to three separate massage parlors in the Atlanta area and killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. 

Some were quick to point out that the perpetrator of these sickening murders was mentally disturbed. A law enforcement official even had the audacity to claim that the shooter “had a bad day.” But those who have been paying attention know that these attacks, while horrifying, were not surprising. They were part of a clear and ongoing pattern of anti-Asian hate that has been on the rise throughout the country over the past year. 

The numbers tell the story: a recent analysis of hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities by researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes targeting Asian people increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020. The largest increase occurred right here in New York, where there were 28 reported incidents, up from three the year before. 

That disturbing trend has continued into this year right here in our city. It seems every day we wake up to news of a physical or verbal assault against an innocent person. Over the past weekend alone, five attacks against Asians were reported. One of the victims was a mother heading with her young daughter to a rally against anti-Asian violence. 

One of the most under-discussed stories of the pandemic has been the way Asian-Americans rallied to this city’s support during the dark early days of the pandemic, helping to deliver hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment. Our office leveraged sister-city agreements forged with cities in China, and strong relationships with members of those communities locally, to get life-saving supplies to those that needed them most. It is not an exaggeration to say that without their heroic and often thankless efforts, the pandemic’s toll here might have been much greater. They did this all while being publicly vilified. 

From the moment COVID-19 arrived here, the former occupant of the Oval Office and members of his party used it as a pretext to stoke bigotry and paranoia against Asian-Americans, calling it the “China virus” and referring to the disease as “kung flu.” These disgusting comments, coming from the top levels of government, undoubtedly fanned the flames of hate until it grew into a wildfire.

Extinguishing this surge in hate, and ensuring all our Asian neighbors feel safe again while walking on the streets, requires all of us to do our part. We were proud to stand alongside New Yorkers of all different races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, and ages last weekend to collectively condemn hate, and we will do so again. We will double down on the grassroots work of cross-cultural community building, like our Breaking Bread, Building Bonds conversations that have brought hundreds of New Yorkers together from all walks of life. But we also need to put real resources into combating these crimes.

That starts with ensuring the NYPD’s recently-formed Asian Hate Crimes Task Force gets the resources it needs. We know that many victims of these crimes are reluctant to come forward in the first place due to language barriers or concerns about their immigration status, which is why the NYPD must prioritize language justice for victims to make it easier to safely report. We need to protect “soft targets” in our small business community that are potential targets for copycat attacks, which is what my office is doing through an expansion of our Operation Safe Shopper initiative that brings security cameras to these at-risk commercial corridors. Finally, we should ensure every district attorney’s office across the city has a robust Hate Crimes Unit to properly investigate these crimes.

In our city, we rightly pride ourselves on our diversity and the sense of solidarity it fosters. Regardless of race, color, or creed, we are all New Yorkers. As someone who has faced race-based bigotry in the past , I feel this solidarity personally. To our Asian brothers and sisters: Know that this hate you are experiencing does not represent our city. Know that you belong here. Know that we will stand with you, today and always.