Back to All Commentary

How to Fight AAPI Violence Without Police

AAPI hate incidents
By: Kenny Nguyen Director of Youth Programs, Education Policy Center

Update March 31, 2021: Days after this piece was published, reports emerged of another horrific attack on an Asian-American person. This time, a 65-year-old woman was kicked to the ground outside an apartment building in Midtown Manhattan. Her attacker reportedly made anti-Asian remarks as he repeatedly stomped on her face while she lay on the pavement. 

These types of attacks continue to plague New York and the rest of the country.

The original piece, which came after the mass shootings in the Atlanta area, is below.

The deadly shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors are just the latest and most high-profile attacks on the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

To be sure, former-President Trump’s use of racist terms for the COVID-19 virus played a huge part in the increase of anti-Asian sentiment. But these attacks and the animus behind them long predate Trump, and speak to the many ways in which white supremacy has harmed the Asian community—both subtle and overt.

The group Stop AAPI Hate recently reported there were 3,800 anti-Asian attacks across the country between March 19 of last year and Feb. 28 of this year, with women making up 68 percent of the survivors. More than 500 of those incidents took place in New York State.

They include an attack in February on Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino man, who was on his way to work when he was slashed across the face from cheek to cheek. On a single day last month, four Asian American women were attacked in New York City, including a woman who was shoved to the ground on a crowded street in Flushing, Queens. Asian Americans have been coughed on or spat upon, physically assaulted, and verbally harassed.

This violence has terrified many Asian Americans in New York City, where we make up 16 percent of the population.

Last year as the pandemic arrived in New York City, my parents urged me not to go into work. “They’ll attack you,” they pleaded. I didn’t want to let these violent attacks affect my daily routine. But I was scared.

I purposefully stood next to AAPI elders on the subway, knowing they were the most vulnerable to these attacks. People would stare. My anxiety went through the roof. If these elders were going to get attacked or harassed, they’d have to go through me first. But I was terrified.

We must continue to fight discrimination, call out racism, and protect our communities.

The horrific murders in Georgia have made the struggles of the AAPI community visible to every American, and they prove the lie of the “model minority.” This myth, as Learning for Justice explains, characterizes Asian Americans as “a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.”

The model minority myth is not harmless; it is part of the same white supremacist thinking that results in outright discrimination and even violent attacks.

The model minority myth treats us as a monolith, but this erases our varied lived experiences and our struggles, including stark disparities in wealth, education, employment, and poverty. Even government statistics mask the challenges facing our communities, by grouping together all Asian ethnicities and identities into one reported category.

Like other communities of color, AAPI communities in New York suffer from issues of housing instability, poverty, unemployment, racist immigration policies, and the criminalization of sex work.

Violence against the AAPI community is not new and it is unacceptable. It’s time to stop treating us as the “perpetual foreigner” and to start addressing our needs.

First, city and state governments need to support community-led programs to keep our AAPI elders safe. Many elders are afraid to leave their homes after recent attacks, so in some neighborhoods, community members have gathered in shifts to accompany them when they leave their homes. This allows our elders to continue on with their lives without fear of being attacked or harassed. We need to support, uplift, and fund these programs.

Second, we must ensure restorative responses are central to our resolution of these crimes – not more aggressive policing. Through restorative practices, the offender makes amends both to the person they’ve hurt and the community at large. The offender gains a better understanding of their impact, and the community is made whole

Restorative practices have been used in precisely this way with positive results. Falling back on the police further criminalizes our communities, undermines the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, and doesn’t address the root causes of violence. It is disappointing to see elected officials already calling for more police as the solution, when we know policing is not safe for everyone.

Third, we must ensure that the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) is properly implemented in every school, and that schools have funding to make the most of it. Before schools shut down last year, Asian American students were taunted and bullied by classmates who blamed them for COVID-19. For many, that bullying continued in virtual classrooms and on social media.

If enforced, DASA can protect students against harassment based on race. It ensures that there is a trained adult in every school who students can go to for help. It requires rapid follow-up on complaints and data reporting to identify patterns. Moreover, DASA requires schools to adopt a culturally responsive curriculum to help combat discrimination. Unfortunately, many schools do not adequately implement DASA, and neither the New York City Department of Education nor State Department of Education have taken enough action to ensure this law is universally followed.

Finally, we need to invest in our AAPI communities. The psychological impacts of these attacks can have lasting effects. We need to fund and nurture culturally responsive and language-accessible health and social services designed to address trauma, resiliency, and healing.

The struggles of AAPI communities have been long ignored and understated. We have an opportunity now, in a time when our state and nation are reckoning with white supremacy, to end this violence and discrimination.

Being a queer, Vietnamese American, I know firsthand that white supremacy is plaguing every part of our society. We must continue to fight discrimination, call out racism, and protect our communities. We must stop anti-Asian racism when we see it, using every tool we have. And when we do this together, as New Yorkers, we will come out stronger on the other side.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union