A surge in anti-Asian attacks reported since the start of the pandemic has left Asian Americans across the country scared and concerned, but a Los Angeles-based civil rights group says the actual number of hate incidents could be even higher.
"There are far more people who have not reported incidents than those who have," Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, told NPR.
This underreporting is due to a combination of several factors, ranging from language and cultural barriers to a lack of trust in law enforcement, Chung Joe said an interview with Morning Edition host Rachel Martin.
"If the community feels that the police aren't going to do anything, then chances are that word gets around and the community feels next time I'm not going to report it then. What's the point?" Chung Joe said.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, received more than 2,800 firsthand reports of anti-Asian hate, including physical and verbal assaults, between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020.
By now, the number of reported incidents has surpassed 3,000, according to Russell Jeung, a co-founder of the coalition and a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.
"What we've discovered isn't that we've just had a spike, but we've had a surge over the entire year last year with COVID-19 and with the president's political rhetoric in the last administration," Jeung told NPR's Michel Martin.
The reported incidents range from verbal harassments to physical altercations. Last month, Denny Kim, a 27-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, was reportedly attacked by two men in LA's Koreatown neighborhood.
The altercation, which left Kim with a black eye and injuries to his nose, was witnessed by his friend, Joseph Cha, local TV station KTLA said.
The two assailants, who ran off after the attack, allegedly said that "all f-ing Asians gotta die," according to Cha.
As a man in his late 20s, Kim is not the typical victim of anti-Asian attacks. Chung Joe said that most attacks target the more vulnerable members of the Asian American community.
"Women are targeted more than twice as often as men," she said, and "we are seeing a spate of hate and violence targeted at our seniors."
The rise in racially motivated attacks has put an entire community on edge.
"Many of the folks that I speak to are scared to go out or they're encouraging their elderly parents not to go out of the house, even for things like daily walks or trips to the grocery store," Chung Joe said. "We do feel like there's sort of a bullet on our backs in our community. And so folks are really worried about this."
Jeung described the situation as a "nationally traumatizing moment" for Asian Americans.
Nearly 44% of all incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate have come from California. Asian Americans account for roughly 15% of California's estimated 40 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. No other state in the continental United States has a larger Asian population.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reported last month that business and civil rights groups across California are demanding action in light of the surge in violence in the San Francisco Bay Area, which left one man dead and others badly injured.
In January, Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was going for a morning walk in his San Francisco neighborhood. Surveillance cameras captured a man running at him full speed and smashing his frail body to the pavement. Ratanapakdee died of his injuries two days later. A 19-year-old man has been charged with murder and elder abuse.
The issue has also caught the attention of President Biden, who signed a memorandum pledging to combat anti-Asian and Pacific Islander discrimination, shortly after taking office.
"The Federal Government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin," Biden said. "Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons."
It was part of a series of racial equity-focused executive orders.