Winter 2021 in Hate: How State-Sanctioned Bigotry Begets Violence

This past winter has been brutal — it marked one year since the outbreak of the coronavirus, and it also marked several anniversaries and memorials of pandemic-driven xenophobic violence across the globe.

On the one-year anniversary of the Delhi pogrom, we noted the Modi administration’s role in institutionalizing, facilitating, and inhumanely justifying violence against Muslims, Dalits, Christians, Adivasis and women. Even if Modi himself did not physically harm anyone during this pogrom, his words and actions explicitly encouraged others to do so, and resulted in devastation — from which our brethren in India are still recovering. When we found ourselves one month into the military coup in Myanmar, we remembered the words of Aung San Suu Kyi and her inability to defend human rights amidst the genocide of Rohingya citizens — yet again, state leaders’ vitriolic words have inspired and been used to validate violence.

Two weeks ago, we felt, once more, the impacts of xenophobic political rhetoric in the U.S. when a shooter targeted three different massage parlors in the metro-Atlanta area — killing eight people, six of whom were Asian American women — in a violent act of what he called “sexual deviance.” Whether explicitly or implicitly, the shooter acted on anti-Asian and misogynistic biases, both of which were championed by President Trump while he was in office. Though Trump’s words may have lasted mere seconds on air, their impact is and will be felt for years to come; by establishing that political leaders could tout bigoted and racist ideologies on state-sanctioned platforms without being held accountable, President Trump has put Americans of color at greater risk of collective and communal violence.

Of course, the violence of xenophobia and racist ideology did not begin with President Trump’s election, just as it has not ended with his leaving office. The roots of bigotry are unfortunately much deeper. We must reject uncritical short-term responses (such as increased policing and surveillance), and instead prioritize transformation, healing, and anti-racist abolition.

As we at SAALT look towards the September anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, we call on our community to engage in reflective examinations of hate, violence, and the systems they’re housed within — immigration, detention, employment, civil rights — so we are better equipped to uproot bigotry in all its forms.

In the first three months of 2021, SAALT tracked 12 incidents of hate violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab American communities, with 1 new incident in 2020 since our last report:

· On January 6, a group of white supremacists attacked the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Amongst them was Lonnie Coffman, 70, who brought several explosives and a “‘concerning’ handwritten message targeting Muslim-American Congressman Andre Carson.” U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin cited Coffman’s message when questioning the intent of the white supremacists in their attack on the Capitol: “The handwritten messages…raise grave concerns about his intentions and suggest that these weapons were intended to be used in an effort to violently attack our elected representatives.”

· On January 8, a teacher at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, NY “harassed a Muslim student and called her a terrorist.” The student, Duha Elkhouli, is 16.

· On January 11, in Hendricks County, IN, unknown individuals put together “a bigoted, anti-Muslim petition opposing a project…that includes a mosque and Muslim school.”

· On January 19, James Davis, 53, attacked a Muslim man at his workplace in New York City. Davis threatened to kill the man “because he is Muslim” and then chased him with a rifle.

· On January 22, Brian Christopher attacked a 68-year-old Afghani man who worked at a Chevron gas station convenience store in Portland, OR. Miller was arrested and charged; the Afghani man was not physically injured.

· On January 22, Sarah Ann Neal, 42, of Palo Alto, CA approached a man in his 50s of Middle Eastern descent and asked him for money. The man refused, at which point “Neal questioned his immigration status and demanded to see his identification.” He again refused, and Neal “removed a laptop from a bag she had been carrying and began to attack him with it, striking him twice on the arms.”

· On January 28, an unnamed Instagram user threatened the local Missouri chapter of SAALT’s ally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with hate speech that included anti-Black, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rhetoric. The Instagram account from which the threat originated has since been shut down.

· On February 4, an unknown person posing as Congresswoman Maxine Waters sent a letter to the Islamic Center of Hawthorne in Los Angeles, CA threatening to send the National Guard to close the mosque. “The letter, filled with typos and inaccuracies, warns the mosque that the letter’s sender — purportedly Waters — wants it “shut down and will order fines to be imposed and the National Guard to enforce shutting your doors for religious service … as well as synagogues and Christian (sic) churches).

· On February 8, an unknown person posted an online death threat targeting CAIR Director Wilfredo Ruiz on the website of David Horowitz’s Frontpage Magazine. Horowitz is known for his blatant Islamophobia. The threat has been reported to the FBI.

· On February 11, the Commonwealth Club of Santa Clara, CA decided to “ignore concerned community organizations and members and proceed with an event featuring anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian speaker Bari Weiss… It further welcomed the resignation of at least one of the Club’s InForum board members, Femily, who cited the Club’s insistence on proceeding with the event as her basis for departing the organization.

· On February 12, Osamah Alsaidi, 19, reported that two New Jersey Police Department officers had attacked him on December 14, 2020. In the NJPD report of the incident, Alsaidi is portrayed as “aggressively approaching officers”; however, Alsaidi has said that the event occurred when “he was walking on the block near his home and headed to his car to go to work…officers pulled up in a vehicle and cut off his path. They punched him several times, ‘for no reason’… and later took him to a hospital.

· As recently as the publication of this report, Hindutva extremists have targeted anti-Hindutva and anti-hate activist and scholar Professor Audrey Truschke with violent hate speech, including “anti-Muslim sentiments, misogyny, violent threats, things endangering [her] family… and aggression towards [her] students.” The entire community, including fellow faculty at Rutgers University, have stood in solidarity with Professor Truschke.

SAALT also recorded 15 new incidents of xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric by public officials since our last report.

· On January 4, Kings County Democratic District Leader of the 41st Assembly District, Lori Maslow, made several “disparaging and hateful remarks about Palestinians and Chinese Americans in a series of tweets,” including a call for the genocide of Palestinian people. Allies have called for her resignation.

· On January 6, former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, compared post-Trump relations between Republicans and Democrats to Shia and Sunni Muslims, saying: “‘It’s going to make the Sunnis and Shiites look like a very calm family gathering.’” This statement has been widely condemned, and has been accompanied with demands to exclude Emanuel from the Biden-Harris Administration.

· On January 11, a Muslim correctional officer reported another Islamophobic post from Connecticut Department of Corrections Officer Anthony Marlak who had previously shared offensive content, including a cartoon that depicted “five Muslim men hanging from a noose with the caption ‘Islamic wind-chimes’.

· On January 12, Clackamas County commissioner Mark Shull made a series of hate-filled posts on his blog which “range from racist comments about his alleged experiences with Muslims to extreme comments about his views on the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.” He had also made several posts targeting public officials, including Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and others targeting Black Lives Matter activists and the trans community.

· On January 26, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District) was found to have posted “far-right extremist and debunked conspiracy theories on her page.” She also called for other representatives to be executed for supporting immigrants.

· On February 2, Stafford County Supervisor Crystal Vanuch “cited water quality as the reason for her opposition to a proposed Muslim cemetery on Garrisonville Road, [though] a fellow supervisor has accused her of making an anti-Muslim remark, according to a deposition filed in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the county.

· On February 7, Senator Nathan Dahm (R-OK) tried “for the second time to prohibit sanctuary cities in Oklahoma,” noting that the goal of this bill is to “prevent safe havens for criminals.” The ACLU has condemned Dahm for his bill’s anti-immigrant sentiment.

· On February 25, organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) chose to host Scott Presler as a speaker, despite continued protests from several allied organizations, including CAIR. Presler “was in Washington, D.C., for the Stop the Steal rally and even called the Jan. 6 insurrection the “largest civil rights protest in American history.

· On March 1, Sinclair Broadcast Group national cited an Islamophobic organization’s work, a day after President Biden launched a military strike in Syria. The Center for Security Policy has been designated by our allies at the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group.

· On March 8, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) challenged the move to distribute stimulus checks, asking “Should taxpayer money, be sent — $1,400 — to every illegal alien in America?” His amendment was rejected and called out for its false claims.

· On March 9, Edison, NJ School Board Vice President Mohin Patel shared a hateful photograph on his Facebook page, depicting a “bonfire adorned with photographs of five [Muslim] individuals and the star and crescent of Islam.” This was not the first Islamophobic post Patel had made on his social media pages, nor was it the first time his Islamophobia has come to light: he was one of eight people that the UPS identified “as responsible for a racist 2017 mailer urging residents to ‘Make Edison Great Again’ and warning ‘the Chinese and Indians are taking over our town’.” He remains in his position in the Edison School Board.

· On March 15, a video emerged of Representative Marjorie Greene Taylor pointing at “a Muslim patron wearing [a hijab] outside a local library [in Atlanta, GA] and [stating to the camera], ‘I want to show you something. See that right there? Our library is full of that’.”

· On March 18, former Toms River, NJ Board of Education member Dan Leonard was found to have made several Islamophobic comments, including accusations of terrorism. His most recent post included the statement “My life would be complete if she [would] die…” while sharing an article on Rashida Tlaib. He was found to be in violation of the school district’s ethics code and has since been censured.

· On March 31, the Alabama state government upheld Bill AL HB246 which banned the teaching of yoga because it promotes Hinduism — “a claim several conservative Christian groups say is a problem.” A legal adviser to the Alabama Citizens Action Program also noted that since yoga is rooted in Hinduism, “it does not need to be taught to small children in public schools,” indicating that only Christian practices should be taught.

Since January 2, 2021, SAALT tracked 50 new publicly-reported incidents of hate, violence and rhetoric targeting Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander individuals and communities since our last report. Our AAPI allies and SAALT continue to receive sensitive first-hand accounts of coronavirus-related hate violence, but these details will not be reported in SAALT’s Hate Reports.

· On January 2, Brooklyn District Leader Lori Maslow (who was also the 6th Vice Chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee) tweeted that she “can’t even look at Chinese food” in response to a New York Times piece on tariffs for Chinese goods. She has since tweeted an apology and followed it up with a resignation of her Vice Chair position, while retaining her title as district leader.

· On January 2, the exterior of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, CA was found defaced. At this time, the person behind the incident, Jeffrey Caron, 27, was not identified.

· On January 5, Jeffrey Caron, 27, was found to have removed “every branch…from two cherry blossom trees” planted at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. He was identified after this incident and arrested.

· On January 6, a 52-year-old Asian woman in Oakland, CA was shot by a “young man with a flare gun.” She was found bleeding profusely in the city’s Chinatown district. The young man was identified as a 36-year-old later on and arrested.

· On January 18, an unidentified person smashed the window of D’bali Asian Bistro, a restaurant in Airway Heights, WA. The local community has rallied around the restaurant and its owners, offering support, and encouraging the owner of the restaurant to discuss the incident publicly.

· On January 22, Peter Eschright, 39, attacked an Asian American woman as she sat on the bus in Portland, OR. Eschright verbally assaulted the woman before kicking her in the shin; the incident “left the [survivor] with ‘some trouble walking’.” Eschright has been arrested.

· On January 28, Antoine Watson, 19, and Maylasia Goo, 20, attacked Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old man from Thailand, in Oakland, CA. Ratanapakdee has since passed away as a result of the assault.

· As recent as February 1, there have been at least 20 robberies and attacks on businesses in Chinatown in Oakland, CA. “In one of the recent attacks, a Chinatown shop’s surveillance caught the moment when a man hovered behind a customer and snatched their wallet while trying to pay at the cashier.

· On February 3, an unknown person assaulted the 64-year-old mother of Kathy Duong in San Jose, CA and stole her possessions. The police are investigating.

· On February 3, an unidentified person attacked Noel Quintana, 61, while both rode the L train in New York City. Quintana was left bleeding and called for the city to acknowledge rising anti-Asian violence. Instead, Mayor Bill de Blasio told people to “trust the NYPD.

· On February 3, two unidentified people attacked a 71-year-old Asian woman in broad daylight in Oakland, CA. When CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked about President Biden’s response to the escalating violence, the White House Press Secretary responded by stating, “I’m not aware that he’s seen the videos, but he is concerned about the discrimination against, the actions against the Asian American community, which is why he signed the executive order, and why he’s been outspoken.

· On February 4, Yahya Muslim consecutively assaulted three Asian Americans in Oakland, CA. The first person was a 91-year-old man who was pushed to the ground; the others were attacked later in the day in the same area.

· On February 8, a historic monument in San Jose’s Japantown honoring the city’s Japanese immigrants was found defaced with red spray paint by an unidentified person. One city leader believes the attack was not racially motivated, though the community disagrees.

· On February 9, an unidentified person spray-painted an anti-Asian racial slur on a building across from the Chinese American International School in San Francisco, CA. Supervisors Gordon Mar and Connie Chan are calling for change, beginning with meetings including various city officials.

· On February 9, four people attacked and robbed an Asian man in San Leandro, CA. The San Leandro Police Department is investigating; at the same time, “representatives from a national grassroots movement called Asians with Attitudes are already in action” with group members patrolling the area.

· On February 10, a Twitter user named Em posted a video of Beach City Brokers agent Michael “Mike” Dalcin insulting her as she was walking near the intersection of Montana Avenue and Bundy Drive in Los Angeles’ Brentwood neighborhood. “No one’s going to pay attention to you because you’re dumb, and you’re a stupid, blue Asian-haired girl,” Dalcin can be heard saying in the video before repeatedly swearing and holding up his middle finger at the woman. Dalcin has since been fired.

· On February 11, an unidentified person vandalized four Asian-owned restaurants in Howard County, WA. The restaurants were looted the night that Lunar New Year celebrations commenced. Howard County police spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn noted in an email that “Detectives suspect this is part of a larger series of burglaries in the region in which the businesses were not all Asian-owned.” However, community members are rallying for deeper investigation.

· On February 16, Patrick Mateo shoved an elderly Asian woman on Main Street in Flushing, Queens(New York). Mateo verbally assaulted the woman as well; he has since been arrested.

· On February 16, an unidentified person attacked Yaeji Kim, 30, with pepper spray in Manhattan, New York. The NYPD is not investigating the assault as a hate crime, since Kim was not verbally assaultedin addition to being physically assaulted.

· On February 16, two unidentified men made racist comments (including the term “Chinese virus”) towards Denny Kim, a 27-year-old Asian man, before swinging at him while in Los Angeles, CA. When a local rally was held to raise awareness about the rise in anti-Asian violence, Kim decided he had to speak up.

· On February 17, John Mitchell, an actor who served on the elected board of the Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA, posted an anti-Asian meme of President Biden that used stereotypical Asian caricature and was captioned “Sum Dum F***.” He has since resigned after multiple members in the union called out the Philadelphia chapter’s tepid response.

· On February 20, an unidentified person attacked Matthew Leung, 51, as he waited for a bus in Rosemead, CA; he suffered a severed finger. The LAPD is still investigating and has said that it’s unclear if this was a racially-motivated act.

· On February 24, an unidentified person assaulted a young Asian American woman with what “appeared to be a rock in a sock” in King County, WA. The survivor was knocked unconscious and is healing from a fractured nose. A report on the incident contextualized it with other attacks: “The King County Prosecutor’s Office is charging seven hate crime cases in 2021. Two of them involve attacks on Asian Americans.

· On February 25, Sean Jeremy Holdip targeted Noriko Nasu and her boyfriend as they walked in Seattle, WA. The state police have not “definitively said the attack was race related,” though the survivors claim otherwise.

· On February 26, an unidentified man placed the body of a mutilated cat in an open box outside Mad Butcher Meat Company, a Sacramento, CA-based store owned by Asian American woman Kelly Shum. Shum believes the delivery of the cat was anti-Asian in aim, as the store has been repeatedly targeted with racist attacks, including “racist prank calls about dead pets and ‘bat soup’.

· On February 26, the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, CA was vandalized: an unknown person tore two metal lanterns from their bases, smashed a 12-foot window and set two wooden lanterns on fire. The incident has been widely condemned by APIA organizations and their allies, but as yet there has been no response from local officials or police.

· On February 28, in Salem, OR, two unknown men physically assaulted a 21-year-old Asian American Willamette University student, while making anti-Asian comments. Willamette University Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Lisa Landreman notified the university’s community and condemned the attack.

· On March 2, Salman Muflehi punched Teoh Ming, 56, several times in New York City. Muflehi had previously been arrested for the stabbing of an Asian man, but given his personal testimony that the attack was not racially motivated, his violence was not investigated as hate driven. That is still the case.

· On March 4, residents of Howard County, MD, made “disparaging and racist comments targeting [local] Chinese, Korean, Asian and Latino communities” while attending the County Council’s Racial Equity Task Force. The representatives who organized the task force have condemned the comments.

· On March 8, Karen Inman, 39, spat on an Asian man in Mountain View, CA before verbally assaulting him with ethnic slurs. Inman was interviewed and released, “because officers had not witnessed the incident and because the victims did not ‘desire prosecution’.

· On March 9, an unidentified man and woman verbally assaulted Lai while they were riding a Miami-Dade County bus. Lai asked the couple to wear their masks as per state law, at which point the man yelled at her, “Mind your business, Chinese lady. I don’t care about you people. Go to hell. This is America.” The mayor of Miami-Dade County has condemned the hate speech, and Lai has called for people to stand up and take action against anti-Asian hate whenever they encounter it.

· On March 9, Teaunte Bailey, 26, fatally injured a 75-year-old man while attempting a robbery in Oakland, CA. Bailey is facing charges — but none of them address the violence as driven by anti-Asian hate.

· On March 11, an unidentified man pepper-sprayed Cwell, a gas station owner in Oakland, CA. The man became frustrated after attempting to pay for his gas with quarters.

· On March 11, unidentified students at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY posted notes “containing racist language targeting Chinese students” in at least three campus buildings. A movement led by Black students on campus, #NotAgainSU, brought the incident to light and called for action.

· On March 12, Kyle Harrington verbally assaulted his Filipino American Uber driver in San Francisco, CA, yelling, “You Asian ***, you probably don’t have papers to be here.” Harrington was riding the Uber with his children. Stella Hwang, a bystander, intervened when she heard the attack happening; since then, Harrington has been banned from Uber.

· On March 12, Johan Strydom, 32, physically assaulted Tiffany, a 26-year-old Filipina American woman, while she spoke on the phone with her boyfriend in San Jose, CA. Strydom pulled Tiffany’s hair and cursed at her before bystanders helped Tiffany escape the attacker and called local authorities. Strydom is facing assault charges with hate crime enhancements.

· On March 13 in San Francisco, CA, Victor Humberto Brown, 53, verbally assaulted Ron Tuason, an Army veteran of Filipino, Chinese, and Spanish descent, with anti-Asian racial slurs and cries to get out of the country. Brown has been booked on a felony charge without hate crime enhancements.

· On March 14, an unidentified person vandalized the San Antonio, TX restaurant Noodle Tree, with death wishes and racist slurs. The community quickly mobilized to restore the restaurant to its pre-assault state in just 24 hours, which Noodle Tree owner Mike Nguyen noted was “very touching and moving…to see the support and the love of the community, it kind of helps you heal a little.

· On March 14, an unidentified woman verbally assaulted an Asian woman and her boyfriend in New York, NY, yelling in their faces, “You’re not from here, you’re from China. Go back to China.” The NYPD is investigating the incident.

· On March 15, Tony Sprague, 47, verbally assaulted a 38-year-old woman and her children while they sat in their vehicle in Portland, OR, shouting at them to “go back where she came from.” When the woman attempted to move her vehicle away, he “kicked her driver side mirror” and left a gaping hole.

· On March 16, Robert Aaron Long killed eight different people — six of whom were Asian American women — at three different spas across the metro-Atlanta area. Long cited “sexual deviance” as his motive. He has since been arrested, but despite continued calls from the community, Long is not being charged with hate crime enhancements.

· On March 16, a group of teenagers assaulted a 13-year-old Asian boy while he played in a playground in Flushing, NY. After shoving the child to the ground, the teenagers “took turns throwing a basketball at the young man’s head…one of the attackers said, ‘Stupid f*****g Chinese — go back to your country.” The child is now in stable condition after being hospitalized; NYPD are investigating the incident.

· On March 17, a student athlete at Wantagh High School in Long Island, NY verbally assaulted a visiting student athlete from Valley Stream South High School’s girls’ varsity tennis team. Athletes on both schools’ tennis teams reported the incident, which was then condemned; Wantagh High School is investigating the incident more closely.

· On March 20, an unidentified person verbally and physically assaulted a 66-year-old Asian man in New York, NY. The NYPD has assigned the incident to its Hate Crimes Task Force.

· On March 21, Marc Mathiew, 36, verbally assaulted Narayange Bodhi, a Sri Lankan immigrant, before punching him for riding the New York subway. The NYPD is not investigating the incident as a hate crime.

· On March 22, an unidentified person attacked a 37-year-old woman who was on her way to a rally against hate in New York, NY. The woman was left bleeding, and the signs she’d brought with her for the rally were destroyed. It’s unclear if there is any investigation.

· On March 23, Donovan Lawson, 26, harassed two elderly Asian women in New York, NY; when a man stepped in to defend the two women, Lawson punched him. Lawson has been charged with “assault-hate crime, aggravated harassment, menacing and harassment.

· On March 27, Bobby Eli, 48, verbally harassed a 65-year-old woman in New York, NY, shouting, “Chinese b**** with blue hair, get out of my way.” He then swung an object towards her. Eli is facing aggravated harassment and menacing charges.

· On March 27, the cars of Mr. Chheng and his Asian American neighbor were found set ablaze in their hometown of Oakland, CA. The city’s fire department is investigating but does not think the arson was hate-motivated.

· On March 29, Brandon Elliot, 38, physically and verbally assaulted Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old Asian woman with anti-Asian slurs outside a luxury apartment building in New York, NY. The staff at the apartment building did not intervene. Elliot has since been arrested. The community is raising money to support Vilma and her daughter, Liz.

Inclusive of the incidents in this monthly summary, SAALT and our partners have tracked 355 incidents of xenophobic or Islamophobic rhetoric, and 768 incidents of hate violence targeting South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Middle Eastern Americans, Arab Americans and those racialized as such since November 2015.

A national social justice org working on policy analysis/advocacy on issues affecting the South Asian community: immigration, post 9/11 backlash. www.saalt.org