Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a rapid increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. The mass shootings in Atlanta and Indianapolis have shocked the conscience of the nation.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 3,800 hate crime incidents against Asians were reported during the pandemic year. This alarming figure raises serious questions about the safety and security of people of color in this country.
Misleading and biased information coming from the leadership of the previous administration has contributed further to the xenophobia we are experiencing today.
Hate and racial prejudice against Asians are not a new phenomenon. Our history is full of such examples as embodied in prejudiced legislation and bloodshed.
Just a few incidents in our past: the massacres of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles (1871), Rock Springs (Wyoming, 1885) and the Hells Canyon Massacre of 1887 in Nebraska. On the legislative front, there was the Page Act of 1875, which targeted and dehumanized Chinese women, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned the immigration of Chinese laborers.
Other Asian groups who were the victims of hate and racial prejudice include 120,000 Japanese Americans who were sent to concentration camps during World War II, 62% of whom were U.S. citizens. More recently, in 1982, Vincent Chin was killed in Detroit by two auto workers thinking he was Japanese. This happened during the rise of the Japanese auto industry in the United States.
After the Vietnam war, Vietnamese refugees engaged in the shrimp industry were harassed by the KKK in Texas. After 9/11, many in the Sikh community from Punjab, India, were targeted because of their dress and appearance. In Fresno, members of the Sikh community experienced xenophobic violence.
There is hardly an ethnic group that has not experienced hate, bigotry, harassment, discrimination and prejudice. Jews, Filipinos, Armenians, Koreans, Muslims, Hispanics, Hmong, African Americans and Native Americans all have experienced this epidemic of hate and racism that is a threat to the peace and tranquility of our communities and the nation.
In Fresno, local leaders have been proactive in addressing the possibility of hate violence against Asians in our community.
The City Council has passed a resolution in support of the mayor’s initiative to create the new office and appoint a community affairs officer who will connect marginalized communities to resources.
I would recommend that the mayor and City Council reestablish the Human Relations Commission, which could lend support and help to the new Office of Community Affairs. A commission representing the rich diversity of our community could be a positive force in preventing hate crimes and strengthening community bonds and cohesiveness.
The original Human Relations Commission, on which I served for 12 years (four years as chair), was established in 1986 by the Fresno City Council and had four major functions:
- Promote community education and celebrations that foster understanding and appreciation of the multicultural diversity of the Fresno community.
- Coordinate with existing resources regarding concerns about all forms of discrimination and making referrals of specific complaints to the appropriate agency.
- Mediate conflicts in the community between citizens, particularly those conflicts based on race, ethnicity, religion, cultural differences or sexual orientation.
- Identify and address patterns of tension, conflict and discrimination.
There is widespread support for bringing back the Human Relations Commission, and it would be a great asset to the community.