84-year-old Thai immigrant Vicha Ratanapakdee was the victim of a fatal attack on the morning of January 28th in Oakland. He never regained consciousness after being violently shoved to the ground in the middle of the street. More than 700 cases of hate incidents against Asians have been reported in the Bay Area alone.
This tragic incident is among a surge of violent attacks against Asian-American across the country. The internet has documented numerous troubling videos of Asian-American elders in particular being assaulted in broad daylight. Three elderly Asian-American women were attacked on the subway in New York City; also on the subway, 61-year-old Noel Quintana was slashed across the face with a box cutter; Matthew Leung, 51, was beaten with his own cane at a Rosemead bus stop.
Stop AAPI Hate has received more than 2,800 firsthand reports of incidents against Asian-Americans across 47 states and Washington, D.C. in the past year. The attacks have been attributed to false, racist notions about COVID-19 that Donald Trump popularized in part, repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” and the “China virus” during his presidency.
In response to these incidents, New York City’s MTA has called for 1,000 additional NYPD officers across stations. Last August, NYPD announced the creation of an Asian Hate Crime Task Force to combat violence against Asian-Americans. Similarly, Oakland, California police have added foot and car patrols in Chinatown, and Alameda County prosecutor Nancy O’Malley has announced the creation of a special response team for crimes against Asian-Americans. Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu posted a $25,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of Ratanapakdee’s attacker.
While the rise in violent attacks against Asian-Americans is deeply disturbing, calls for increased policing are not the answer to eradicating the root of this issue—nor will they ensure the safety of marginalized communities.
Community groups such as the Asian-American Feminist Collective in New York City have spoken out against the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force in an open letter, demanding instead the abolition of the police, prison, and military industrial complex.
“We do not support any initiative that expands the power of police nor do we believe in carceral responses to address racist violence,” the letter states. The organization also points to the ways in which the NYPD has historically been the perpetrator of violence against Asian immigrants in the city, targeted South Asian and Muslim community members, and harrassed Asian immigrant workers, sex workers, and asylum-seekers.
A statement signed by dozens of Asian-American organizations and allies across the country also rejected a punitive response to the surge in hate crimes saying, “The solution to violence is not more violence in the form of aggressive and discriminatory law enforcement. Instead, we need interventions and responses that address the root causes of violence and that provide culturally and linguistically sensitive services for survivors, victims, and their families.”
Adopting an abolitionist standpoint to violence means turning away from simple law-and-order solutions to the carceral system. It means looking at the harm that has been inflicted on Asian-Americans with a nuanced understanding of white supremacy, its pervasiveness, and the way it protects itself by pitting minority communities against one another.
Videos circulating the internet that depict Black men as the perpetrators of violence do little to capture the context of every incident; as a result, Asian-Americans in online communities such as Subtle Asian Traits have leaned into anti-Blackness. On Reddit, a 2010 article from SFGate about “Black-on-Asian-violence” has resurfaced, sparking discussions rooted in anti-Black stereotypes.
The model minority myth has long served as a “racial wedge” between Black and Asian communities to reproduce anti-Black racism and prevent solidarity against white supremacy. It’s important that we reject sensationalized narratives that Black people are inherently violent and racist toward Asian people.
A two-part series from journalists Momo Chang and Darwin Bondgraham reported on the increase in crime throughout Oakland Chinatown, questioning whether the recent wave of attacks is motivated by race alone. Yahya Muslim, a 28-year-old Black man, was recently arrested for three violent incidents in the area; according to the report, Muslim has been described as having “significant mental health issues” and is unhoused. Some community members don’t see the attacks as targeted toward Asians, but those that are vulnerable.
“Alerting Asian communities or heightening their awareness about their safety and security may be sending a false signal that there is a nonexistent attempt on the part of some Black communities to target Asian brothers and sisters,” said Michael Eric Dyson, a scholar of race and religion, in a recent piece from NBC Asian America that cautions against labeling every attack against Asian-Americans as a hate crime.
In a profile from The New York Times, renowned abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore says, “Those of us who are committed to ending the system of mass criminalization have to begin talking more about violence. Not only the harm it causes, but the fact that building more cages will never solve it.” The harm many Asian-Americans and their communities have experienced must be addressed. However, it will not be solved through criminalization and police violence.
Divesting from the police and prison system is only the first step; building “life-affirming institutions” is next. This looks like addressing the inequities that produce crime, such as poverty, through grassroots efforts to make sure a community’s needs are met. It also looks like centering a victim’s healing in response to violence. Abolition requires a radical imagination and a radical love for one’s own community. When our communities experience harm, we must first reject a knee-jerk reaction to inflict it back.
By Sarah Mae Dizon
Illustration by J. Longo