Advocates turn to public health approach to tackle anti-Asian hatred

ABC News

(NEW YORK) – Stop AAPI Hate has become a leading force in monitoring and countering the increase in anti-Asian attacks in communities across the country.

The leaders of this group are reaching out to the California legislature to turn this community effort into legislation with its No Place for Hate policy initiative.

Unlike other legislative proposals, the group and the lawmakers they work with are not focused on new criminal laws, but rather on public health and research initiatives. The idea is to work on community building and other initiatives rather than putting more people in jail.

“Anti-Asian racism exists – it’s systemic, pervasive and sinister,” said Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. “Members of our communities do not feel free to walk on the sidewalks, to take public transport, to do their shopping.

Between March 2020 and December 31, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate recorded over 10,000 reports of hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people across the United States. That’s significantly higher than the number of reported hate crimes, which advocates say are underreported.

Several tragedies, including a shooting at a Dallas salon that targeted three Korean women, and the mass shooting that killed eight people at three Atlanta-based Asian-owned or operated spas in 2021, have highlighted the growing nature and deadly anti-Asian hatred.

This type of hatred has particularly affected Asian American communities in California. In San Francisco, for example, anti-Asian hate crimes have seen an astonishing 567% increase from 2020 to 2021, according to Mayor London Breed.

“One of the things we fundamentally believe in is that we all deserve to feel safe and to move freely without being the target of hate and harassment,” Choi said.

The No Place for Hate initiative includes three bills that target the types of places where these hateful incidents frequently occur: AB 2549 which declares street harassment a public health issue; SB 1161, aimed at protecting the safety and well-being of transit passengers; and AB 2448 to end harassment in businesses.

The Ending Street Harassment Bill, AB 2549, declares street harassment a public health issue and will fund research and programs aimed at preventing common forms of harassment.

“If you think about what it means for women and the AAPI community and others to take to the streets, there is no recourse in being able to share that you have been verbally abused,” said Mia Bonta, member of the Assembly, to ABC News.

Bonta and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who helped draft the bill, say a public health approach allows solutions to focus on education and community building, rather than placing more people in the criminal justice system.

“Many Asian American community organizations have expressed concern about focusing on criminal laws as tools to address the problem of hate crimes,” Muratsuchi told ABC News. “That’s why we’re taking this innovative approach to public health. »

The Public Transit Rider Safety Improvement Bill, SB 1161, will require transit agencies to collect ridership and rider safety data. This data would then be used to implement solutions that could address the harassment and assaults people have experienced while using public transport.

State Sen. Dave Min, the author of the bill, told ABC News that many women from all walks of life have reported that they feel unsafe or have been repeatedly harassed while using public transport.

“They had to change their routes to avoid being stalked or harassed or followed, so it’s a chronic problem,” Min said.

He said the legislation doesn’t force transit officials to take specific actions, but looks to the data collected to come up with the best solutions: “Should we have more safety in certain places? Should there be training for transit operators on what to do if someone reports harassment to them? »

The proposed expansion of civil rights protections in businesses bill, AB 2448, would require businesses to develop and implement protections against discrimination and harassment for customers.

These bills are currently being reviewed and debated by their respective committees.

“It’s important for us to do more than just spread slogans and develop hashtags,” Bonta said. “It’s extremely important to us to develop viable solutions that have the weight of impact and an opportunity to change people’s everyday experience.”

They say these bills not only solve the problem of anti-AAPI hate, but go further to offer solutions to the same problems that many marginalized people from different backgrounds have also encountered.

Choi calls it “cross-solidarity and community-building work.”

“Everyone, including women of color, people with disabilities, young people, older people, the LGBTQI community – we want to be able to walk to the park, take public transport, shop, take care of our families and live our life without being harassed and so our bills really speak for it,” Choi said.

The organization hopes it will serve as an example to states across the country that are grappling with anti-Asian hatred, though several cities have begun to make progress in those efforts.

“At the end of the day, what we strongly believe is that this is not a single piece of legislation, this is not an intervention – we need to take a whole of society approach to tackling all of these forms of harm,” Choi said.

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