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What Statistics Tell Us About Anti-Asian Bias Crimes

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Authorities in Georgia say the man charged with killing eight people at three Atlanta area spas targeted them out of anger against the sex industry. Most of the people killed were women of Asian descent, so there are questions about the role of race and whether the shootings are further confirmation of a rising tide of violence against Asian Americans. NPR's Martin Kaste takes a look at what the latest statistics tell us about the trends.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Asian American communities have been on alert in the last few weeks, especially on the West Coast, after a number of savage, seemingly random assaults on people in California's Bay Area. There's also concern here in Seattle's Chinatown...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KASTE: ...Where a local kung fu team was doing a lion dance yesterday for the opening of a new restaurant. Just around the corner from here a couple of weeks ago, a Japanese American woman was attacked. She was knocked out, her nose broken and teeth chipped in what she later called a hate crime.

JACK TO: Recently, there's been a lot of news on that.

KASTE: Jack To is with the kung fu group. He says he has not felt personally targeted by bias, but he knows others are worried.

TO: We hear that elderlies, they're kind of scared to go grocery shopping even just 'cause that's happening.

KASTE: As if to illustrate the point, just a few minutes later, an older Asian woman hurries down the street to get away from a man who pursues her and curses at her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...On earth, you dumb [expletive] mother******. (ph).

KASTE: Did this happen to her because she's Asian or because Chinatown happens to be near Seattle's skid row?

JACK MCDEVITT: That's one of the big challenges. If somebody pushes you down on the street, you say to yourself, why did that happen? You know? And you have to try to figure it out.

KASTE: Definitions of hate crimes vary a lot from place to place, says Jack McDevitt. He's an expert on hate crimes. He wrote the first federally mandated report on the topic in 1990. He says these inconsistencies plague the national-level statistics.

MCDEVITT: The data is really terrible (laughter). And I've spent my career looking at. But you know, we have agencies that report zero hate crimes to the FBI, places like Indianapolis. It's absurd.

KASTE: And the national numbers are also very slow. We'll have to wait two years to find out if the pandemic coincided with a national increase in attacks on Asians. He says if we want to know now whether there's a growing problem, we should probably look at the trend lines in specific cities.

MCDEVITT: Because they get their data out more quickly - big cities are reporting an increase in anti-Asian violence. Oakland is. San Francisco is. New York is.

KASTE: And the list goes on. In Los Angeles, for instance, the number of hate crimes directed against Asians was up more than 100% from 2019 to 2020, though the actual numbers were from 7 to 15. The numbers were bigger in Seattle, where the police count hate and bias crimes together. Asians were targeted 49 times in 2020, compared to 21 times the year before. That's a big increase, but there were also big jumps in crimes targeting whites and Blacks. And it's important to remember that 2020 was just more violent across the board.

Maiko Winkler-Chin runs the Preservation and Development Authority in Chinatown, and she says the shrinking Seattle Police Department has also added to the sense of insecurity.

MAIKO WINKLER-CHIN: For those that do call the police, I'm not necessarily sure we're getting the best response because they are unable to respond.

KASTE: That said, she's also convinced that Asian Americans are feeling targeted. Whatever the statistics end up showing, she says the current anxiety is undeniable. She says she hears all the time now from people who just feel more at risk and vulnerable.

WINKLER-CHIN: We walk around with our COVID masks. We walk around doing all these things trying to be careful. And even that's not protection enough against this 'cause you just don't know.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.