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Members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and Asian American advocacy groups call for action against anti-Asian hate

Asian Americans are urging lawmakers to combat anti-Asian racism after a significant rise in attacks since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors set up a working group on April 6 to address anti-Asian hate and violence. In Washington, D.C, a coalition of activists called on the Justice Department to step up enforcement efforts.

The initiatives underscore the urgent demands heard across the country to stop the wave of violence against Asians, Pacific Islanders and Desi Americans (APIDA).

L.A. County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly J. Mitchell urged their colleagues to set up a group to address the rise in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.

“The escalation of attacks against the AAPI community has been such a heartbreaking reminder of how far we still have to go towards building a society where everyone can feel safe, be safe, feel accepted and be equal,” Hahn said.

Hahn and Mitchell want the county to address the rise of hate and violence directed towards AAPI and Native Hawaiian communities, create equity among diverse groups and acknowledge the contributions of people of color, especially Asian Americans.

During the public comment period, Asian American residents showed their support for the plan.

“Today, we’ve already seen Supervisor Hahn respond so quickly and take all requests seriously. We just want to say your initiative is deeply appreciated,” said an attendee from Rowland Heights. “It means a lot to our community.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s memorandum combating racism and xenophobia against the APIDA community and additional actions, anti-Asian hate crimes are increasing. According to a dataset from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crimes increased nearly 150 percent in 18 major U.S. cities in 2020, including New York and Los Angeles. Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization tracking incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., cited nearly 3,800 reports from the AAPI community.

Anti-Asian racism and xenophobia are not new to the United States. In 1871, 19 Chinese immigrants were killed and later hanged in a massacre by white murderers in Old Chinatown in Los Angeles. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act became a part of the federal law signed by President Chester Arthur, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. During World War II, more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were placed in internment camps. In the 1980s, a Chinese American named Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men at a bachelor party because he looked Japanese.

“We see a growing public awareness of the historical and systemic discrimination against the AAPI community,” Supervisor Mitchell said. “But awareness is not enough. We’ve got to take action.”

Also on April 6, a national coalition of Asian American advocacy groups held a virtual news conference to call for the Biden Administration to fight anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. They proposed educational and legislative initiatives.

“It’s very obvious that we already have hate crime legislation,” said Marc Ang, the founder and president of Asian Industry B2B, a non-profit organization focusing on uplifting the Asian communities in Southern California. “The problem right now is they’re not enforcing that when it comes to Asians. That is very racist in itself.”

According to Ying Ma, the host of the news conference, the coalition asked the Biden administration to take three steps to combat anti-Asian racism. They are: reinstate the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Yale University administration and denounce racial preferences; condemn, prosecute and properly identify all attackers of Asian Americans; and empower law enforcement and strengthen police protection, particularly for older Asian Americans and those who live in urban areas.

During the meeting, Peter Cheng, a high school student from the Chinese American Volunteering Association in East Los Angeles, asked the panelists how to stop the violence targeting APIDA.

Linda Yang, the director of the Washington Asians for Equality, said an underlying cause of the violence is the failure of the American educational system to address longstanding discrimination against the APIDA community. “We need to take real action to stop the crimes, bring real justice and educate the public about the long history of discriminating against Asian Americans,” Yang said.

More events are planned to keep the focus on solutions. The national coalition will hold a rally at Irvine City Hall at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 17 to discuss how the law enforcement can support the APIDA community, with tips on ways to defend themselves.

Ang anticipates working with members of Congress from both parties. “Let’s do the things we have in common rather than the things that divide us,” he said.