PA state police are concerned that victims of hate crimes and bias are hesitant to report

Written by on April 22, 2020

PA state police are concerned that victims of hate crimes and bias are hesitant to report

By K.C. Lopez

April 22, 2020

A Chinese food restaurant closed amid COVID-19 outbreak in PA. Photo| K.C. Lopez

In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, Lehigh student and Korean American Jisu Choi says she’s concerned that racism targeting Asian Americans is spreading.

“Just going out in public and wondering, are people looking at me more? Are people scared off by me? And just having that constant thought in my head is definitely different now, for sure,” said Choi.

Choi is Co-President of the Asian Cultural Society at Lehigh. She lives in a COVID-19 hotspot on Long Island, and says the experience for Asian Americans during the Coronavirus pandemic comes with new challenges. 

“Seeing people that you know even trying to find comic relief in associating the virus with Asians is really frustrating.”

And while new research is showing a rise in anti-asian rhetoric online, the Pennsylvania State Police worry victims are hesitant to report incidents to police. Lieutenant William Slaton leads the Pennsylvania State Police’s Heritage Affairs Office; a unit that assists law enforcement with preventing, monitoring, responding to and investigating hate crimes in the state.

“Just because we have no reports, that doesn’t mean it’s not occuring. Because again, some victims of hate crimes, or hate crimes in general, they have an emotional toll on the victim. Some victims might not want to report it because they don’t think the community is going to support them or law enforcement is going to support them or law enforcement is going to take the crime seriously. So there’s a strong possibility that hate crimes against Asian Americans in Pennsylvania could be occurring, they’re just not being reported,” said Lieutenant Slaton.

The Network Contagion Research Institute, a New Jersey based non-profit that tracks hate speech online, recently published a study documenting a quote “outbreak of Sinophobic hate emerging regarding COVID19 on 4-chan, an influential and extremist Web community.” The hate speech includes memes, jokes and coded images to promulgate violence and conspiracies against the Asian community. 

Lieutenant Slaton says it’s crucial to monitor hate speech online – and that’s a central part of the state task force strategy.

“We have situations like we had at the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburg where the suspect went online and posted hateful messages about Jewish Americans prior to going in and committing a mass murder. So it’s important to monitor because it could be a precursor to a very violent attack or event.”

Experts worry online rhetoric can lead to real life action. President Trump has faced sharp criticism for referring to the novel coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus;” a term he has repeatedly defended. 

Critics like Lehigh University sophomore and Chinese-Vietnamese American, Wei Ngai, argue the use of the term adds to discrimination and racism against Asian Americans who have a long history of becoming scapegoats for public health crises.

“It was just a way of putting the fear somewhere. But at this time we should all be together and united in the situation instead of putting the blame on one group of people,” said Ngai.

Fellow student Choi agrees. 

“It creates an automatic link and connects this big scary pandemic to the Asian American or Asian community.”

Lt. Slaton says the Pennsylvania State Police have taken a stance against that.

“I do not recommend calling it anything other than the scientific name in which it is given; which is COVID-19. Any other name assigning it to a certain demographic of people has a high potential of increasing the likelihood of hate crimes committed against that demographic.”

But Ngai worries the damage won’t be easily undone.

“When this quarantine is over, I’m concerned about how Asian businesses will be affected. Especially since my family, we own a salon and they’re the main owners of this place. And so I’m worried about whether or not customers will be scared off of coming into their salon in the future.”

Ngai says she wonders how that will impact her family’s livelihood when social distancing orders end. 


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