Asian-Americans Are Being Attacked. Why Are Hate Crime Charges So Rare?

Interesting analysis of some of the challenges:

On a cold evening last month, a Chinese man was walking home near Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood when a stranger suddenly ran up behind him and plunged a knife into his back.

For many Asian-Americans, the stabbing was horrifying, but not surprising. It was widely seen as just the latest example of racially targeted violence against Asians during the pandemic.

But the perpetrator, a 23-year-old man from Yemen, had not said a word to the victim before the attack, investigators said. Prosecutors determined they lacked enough evidence to prove a racist motive. The attacker was charged with attempted murder, but not as a hate crime.

The announcement outraged Asian-American leaders in New York City. Many of them protested outside the Manhattan district attorney’s office, demanding that the stabbing be prosecuted as a hate crime. They were tired of what they saw as racist assaults being overlooked by the authorities.

“Let’s call it what it is,” said Don Lee, a community activist who spoke at the rally. “These are not random attacks. We’re asking for recognition that these crimes are happening.”

The rally reflected the tortured public conversation over how to confront a rise in reports of violence against Asian-Americans, who have felt increasingly vulnerable with each new attack. Many incidents have either not led to arrests or have not been charged as hate crimes, making it difficult to capture with reliable data the extent to which Asian-Americans are being targeted.

That frustration erupted on a national scale this week after Robert Aaron Long, a white man, was charged with fatally shooting eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night.

Investigators said it was too early to determine a motive. After Mr. Long’s arrest, he denied harboring a racial bias and told officials that he carried out the shootings as a form of vengeance for his “sexual addiction.”

The Atlanta shootings and other recent attacks have exposed difficult questions involved in proving a racist motive. Did the assaults just happen to involve Asian victims? Or did the attackers purposely single out Asians in an unspoken way that can never be presented as evidence in court?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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