Pelosi, lawmakers denounce violence against Asian Americans

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined Asian, Black and Hispanic leaders in Congress on Friday to denounce the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in recent weeks, including the killing of an 84-year-old Thai man in Pelosi’s home district in San Francisco.

Hate incidents against Asian Americans have skyrocketed — more than 3,000 have been reported since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year — and Democratic lawmakers and community activists say that rise is directly linked to former President Trump and other political leaders using anti-Asian rhetoric when discussing COVID-19.

“As we celebrate the Lunar New Year, a source of joy, it’s also a source of pain for us at this time because of all of these incidents,” Pelosi said on a Zoom news conference with the leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Black Caucus and Hispanic Caucus — a show of solidarity with the Asian American community.

“Our diversity is our strengths, our unity is our power. And we have unity on this subject,” Pelosi said.

There’s been a wave of verbal and physical attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community over the past 12 months, but in recent weeks the assaults have become more violent and appear to be targeting the elderly.

On Jan. 28, Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was out for his daily walk in San Francisco when a man sprinted across the street and shoved him, an attack that was caught on video and one that his family is calling a hate crime. Ratanapakdee’s head struck the ground and he later died.

Days later in Oakland, a man shoved a 91-year-old Asian American man to the ground, then pushed a 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman. Volunteers are now escorting elderly Asians around the community.

And earlier this month, Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino American, was slashed across his face by another man while he was on his way to work on the New York subway.

“What is happening is a complete and total disgrace. Cut it out. And we want to make sure that those who are perpetrating this violence are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the Democratic Caucus chairman and a member of the Black Caucus. 

“We have to make sure that everybody gets the message, loudly and clearly that we will not tolerate anti-Asian bias,” he continued. “We will not tolerate anti-Asian bigotry. We will not tolerate anti-Asian hatred. We will not tolerate anti-Asian conspiracy theories. We will not tolerate anti-Asian xenophobia. We will not tolerate these hate crimes.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), a Chinese American who chairs the Asian caucus known as CAPAC, said the spate of violence suggests the Asian American community has reached “a crisis point that cannot be ignored.”

Last year, Chu and other Asian American leaders urged political leaders to follow the advice of the World Health Organization and not link the virus with a specific ethnicity, country or geographic region, due to the stigma it causes for those people.

“We warned that spreading xenophobia would put lives at risk. But our pleas and the guidance from experts were ignored,” Chu told reporters.

“Donald Trump and Republicans doubled down on using slurs like ‘Wuhan virus,’ ‘China plague’ and ‘Kung flu.’ And that tactic succeeded in promoting the stigma that directed people’s anger at Asian Americans … What started as dirty looks and verbal assaults has escalated to physical attacks and violence against innocent Asian Americans,” Chu added.

Chu, Pelosi and others are encouraging victims and their families to report anti-Asian hate crimes to authorities but also to organizations like Stop AAPI Hate, so that the incidents can be better tracked and addressed.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a Taiwanese immigrant who helps lead the Democrats’ messaging and policy arm, said that once President Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, is confirmed by the Senate, lawmakers plan to send him a letter urging his department to more aggressively prosecute hate crimes against Asian Americans.

“All racism is toxic. But this [form of] racism is really stupid. I am not a virus,” Lieu said. “There is no evidence that Asian Americans transmit the virus at any higher rates than any other ethnic group, and you’re much more likely to get the virus from people who engage in risky behaviors like not wearing a mask in public.”

“So let’s just get real here and deal with the actual scientific facts,” he added.

Last fall, the House passed a resolution authored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) denouncing “all forms of anti-Asian sentiment” relating to the coronavirus. Some of that language was included in Biden’s executive action in January condemning racism and xenophobia against the AAPI community, and directing the attorney general to look at ways to stop discrimination, harassment and hate crimes against AAPIs.

“It’s a really important, positive and initial step forward,” Meng said of Biden’s actions. “But we must continue to speak out whenever and wherever anti-Asian hate crimes arise. We demand this xenophobia and violence end at once. We can and we must not be idle.”

“This terrorizing of Asian Americans, especially our elderly, must stop,” she said.

Tags AAPI Asian Americans Coronavirus Donald Trump Grace Meng Hakeem Jeffries Hate crimes Joe Biden Judy Chu Merrick Garland Nancy Pelosi Ted Lieu Violence

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