In Atlanta, on March 16, a white man drove to three different massage parlors and deliberately shot and killed eight people, including six Asian women. This type of racialized gender violence against Asian women is systemic in nature and connected to generations of racism, sexism, empire, and imperialism. Of the 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents reported since the start of the pandemic, nearly 70% of victims were women.
There has been an alarming increase and series of violent hate crimes against Asian Americans since the pandemic began. In the last two months alone, Pak Ho, a 75-year-old Chinese American, was killed in Oakland Chinatown; Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, was violently shoved to the ground and killed in San Francisco, and Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino man, was slashed with a box cutter on the subway in New York City. These attacks became high profile and covered by the media but there have also been hundreds of other instances that have occurred in the last few months alone. The majority of these incidents involve verbal harassment, shunning, physical assault, as well as being coughed and spat on in public spaces.
Genforward data from April of 2020 indicates similar experiences for Asian American youth, almost one-third or 32% of Asian American young adults indicated that they have recently experienced discrimination because of their race or ethnicity since the start of the pandemic. This is higher than the percentage of Black (28%), Latinx (20%), and white (9%) youth who indicated that they recently experienced discrimination.
While these numbers are alarming, the sort of anti-Asian climate we are witnessing today is not unprecedented. In fact, journalists and scholars have quickly responded to the current moment and contextualized what is happening within a longer history of anti-Asian violence and exclusion. This narrative often begins with the 1882 Exclusion Act and moves through decades of yellow peril fears used to justify endless imperial violence abroad in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans on the domestic front with Executive Order 9066.
The solution to anti-Asian violence is not more policing, however. Instead of investing more resources in the police and oppressive systems that fail to keep our communities safe, more should be done to reimagine community wellness that does not reproduce harmful carceral logics. According to Genforwad data, young adults of color are already leading the way in these conversations, 72% of Asian American, 69% of Black and 64% of Latinx youth support divesting from police departments and putting their budgets toward investments in other areas such as healthcare, education, and housing.
There is also much to learn from organizations that have long fought against anti-Asian violence without expanding the power of law enforcement. For instance, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, an organization that works with low-income Asian immigrants and refugees in New York City, has a long history of fighting anti-Asian violence in all its forms from evictions to police brutality to labor rights for sex workers, undocumented workers, domestic workers, street vendors, and garment workers.
Red Canary Song was founded in the aftermath of Yang Song’s death –– who fell to her death after fleeing law enforcement during a targeted raid at a massage parlor in Flushing, Queens –– as the only grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition in the country and organizes around the intersections of sex work decriminalization, migrant rights and police abolition.