By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

“You started the corona!” Donalene Ferrer of San Diego was walking with her daughter and mother when a man driving with his family yelled at them.

Ferrer, a registered nurse, was targeted simply for being Asian in one of a rising number of bias incidents since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 13 weeks there have been more than 800 hate incidents targeting Asian Americans in California, averaging about 10 per day, according to Stop AAPI Hate.

Donalene Ferrer

“I couldn’t believe it happened to me and my daughter and my mom. It’s disheartening because they live three doors down from my mom’s house,” Ferrer said on Wednesday during a press conference.

“I thought, I have to say something. I said, ‘For your information, I’m a nurse, my dad was in the military, and you really shouldn’t be teaching your kids racism.’”

The Stop AAPI Hate reporting center was founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department.

Stop AAPI Hate was joined by Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco) in calling for state funding for a task force to address anti-AAPI racism. The state budget, voted on last Friday, excluded specific funding for initiatives advocated for by the Asian American community.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi

Several recent incidents in Torrance have drawn national attention to the problem of anti-Asian hate. Lena Hernandez of Long Beach was identified as the woman involved in incidents captured on video at Wilson Park and also an encounter in October 2019 at the Del Amo Mall. On June 16, a hate letter was left on the door of a Japanese cookware shop in Torrance.

Muratsuchi called the attacks “ugly, disgusting and not acceptable.”

“Clearly this is part of a national trend where we have a president who seems to have given a green light for the racists to come out of the woodwork and target Asian Americans as well as other people of color,” Muratsuchi said.

“This is not Torrance. Torrance is a wonderful community where people of all races get along. Yet it’s sad to say these recent incidents have cast a negative light on our community. We need to send a message that racism against any group is not acceptable.”

Muratsuchi said he spoke with the Torrance prosecutor on the Hernandez case. The 56-year-old woman has been interviewed by Torrance police, but has not been brought up on criminal charges.

“They are planning to announce whether they will file charges by end of this week. The prosecutor did share some of the challenges prosecuting hate crimes. When does free speech become a crime? They are reviewing the evidence. They know loud and clear it is a top priority for the Asian American community and the city of Torrance,” Muratsuchi said.

Assemblymember David Chiu

Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, noted that the response of local police to hate crimes is often inadequate.

“This seems to be a consistent pattern. There is a problem with properly tracking and categorizing when there is a hate crime. It has been our experience historically around this issue,” Choi stated.

Choi expressed great concern for kids when schools eventually reopen. She said that tactics to combat bullying rather than punitive discipline would be more effective.

“Parents are very concerned that when school resumes that their children will be targeted and bullied,” Choi explained. “Conflict mediation that is restorative in nature, cross-community building efforts are the solutions we think will be more effective.”

The incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate range from verbal to physical assaults, avoidance and shunning, and have taken place in neighborhoods, retail stores, the workplace as well as online.

Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, noted that the most vulnerable tended to be victimized. Women in California have reported twice as many incidents of discrimination and harassment as men. By the numbers, 360 of the 538 incidents were reported by women.

“They are attacking the vulnerable: elderly, children and women,” Jeung said.

Chiu, who is the chair of Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, feared that even the documented hate incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate only represent the “tip of the iceberg.”

From speaking with colleagues who represent Chinatowns, including Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, Chiu said that they noticed business has declined by half, even before any regions in the U.S. were impacted.

“We know there is not just a pandemic of health, there is a pandemic of hate that is attacking our API community in the country,” Chiu said. “Our president has gone back to his tactics of shifting attention and callously using terms like ‘kung flu,’ ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘China Joe’ as a way to frankly be a dog whistle inviting racism against Chinese Americans and the broader AAPI communities.”

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