by Glenna Li
What You Can Do
- Learn more about New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ “Omnipresence” Police Plan: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/06/nyregion/nypd-subway-patrol.html
- Contact your local Representative to support the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act, which would require public schools to include Asian American history in their curricula
- Donate to victims of anti-Asian Hate Crimes: https://www.gofundme.com/c/act/stop-aapi-hate
On the morning of January 15, Michelle Go, a 40 year old Chinese American woman, had been waiting for the R train at the Times Square subway station in New York City when she was pushed off the subway platform . A video of her death spread across social media, capturing the attention of New Yorkers and revealing the consequences of a recent rise in urban crime . To combat increased violence in public transit settings days earlier, New York City Mayor Eric Adams had announced changes to subway stations’ police presence, requiring law enforcement to increase the frequency of their “visual inspections” and refer complications regarding homeless individuals to specially-trained outreach teams . Go’s death reverberated among the Asian American community, serving as a reminder that as the pandemic trudges on, anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia have not subsided. A year into the pandemic, one study shows that hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased by 339% in 2021 , with two-thirds of anti-Asian hate crimes being against Asian women .
Despite anti-Semetic and anti-Black hate crimes occurring at a higher volume , fear among Asian Americans is justified. Go’s murderer, Simon Martial, has a history of mental illness and was homeless at the time of the crime. Martial’s socio-economic status further obfuscates his motivations and diffuses culpable players. With homeless people being the instigators of many hate incidents in New York City and 45% suffering from at least one mental illness, it is imperative that homeless individuals receive greater attention and more resources for treatment, especially in large cities with sizable populations  . Critics of Mayor Adam’s new subway station policy assert that increasing police presence could inevitably increase interactions between homeless individuals and police officers, who are ultimately unqualified to respond to their needs, and may result in increased wait-times for outreach teams to be deployed. Although New York City provides guaranteed shelter, housing options are not safe, and many opt to live on the streets instead. Furthermore, these conditions are not being effectively improved. Although Governor Hochul has pledged to increase affordable housing, even units reserved for tenants earning up to 130% of a neighborhood’s median local income are considered “affordable” . Economic precarity, poor quality of life, and lack of healthcare are all hate crime triggers . Creating more affordable housing and increasing mental health resources can help homeless people find stability and pathways for recovery, preventing a large portion of hate incidents from occurring.
Often portrayed as “perpetual foreigners,” Asian Americans have a hard time knowing where they fit into society. While Asian Americans enjoy privileges many minority groups do not benefit from, they often feel overlooked and ignored. However, violent attacks in past few years—from the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta last March to the stabbing of Christina Yuna Lee on February 13—have compelled Asian American community members to band together to protect their peers from unwarranted harm. Regardless of whether these attacks are legally classified as hate crimes, fear of racially-motivated mistreatment continues to capture and direct the way Asian Americans live their lives. For example, many Asian Americans are utilizing taxis and ride-share apps rather than public transit . Nonetheless, solidarity within and outside the Asian American community has helped Asian Americans achieve concrete paths toward justice, from the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to President Biden’s Executive Order expediting the review of pandemic-related hate incidents  .
Increasing awareness of the Asian American identity can also help prevent hate crimes, which are often driven by stereotypes in movies and television and through fear-mongering by the media and politicians . On July 9, 2021, the Illinois State Legislature became the first state to mandate teaching Asian American history after passing HB 376, the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act (TEAACH). The TEAACH Act requires that public elementary and high schools dedicate a unit towards Asian American history . The advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago proposed the legislation with the purpose of increasing understanding and combating deeply-ingrained stereotypes. In addition to Illinois, states like California, Oregon, and New Jersey have also taken steps to integrate Asian American history into their school curricula. On the national level, Representative Grace Meng has introduced H.R. 8519, the Teaching Asian Pacific American History Act, which requires schools to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander history to be eligible for federal grants .
Schools play a vital role in fostering awareness in young people, who are undergoing the most impressionable stages of their lives. Instilling understanding about systemic racism and defending vulnerable communities can prevent crime and cultivate unity among people of different backgrounds. Furthermore, teaching young Asian Americans about their predecessor’s contributions gives them a clearer understanding of their history, which can empower them to use historical contexts to advocate for present exigencies.
That morning on January 15, Michelle Go’s life was taken far too early. No amount of law enforcement patrolling the already densely-policed Times Square subway station could have stopped her from being shoved to death. However, education enables people to learn from the past and prevent future atrocities. Engaging in thought-provoking conversions and learning about different perspectives are potent avenues toward reconciliation and empathy. While teaching Asian American history is no panacea, it addresses a root cause of pandemic-related hate crimes by prompting people to confront their biases.