With Anti-Asian Harassment on the Rise, New York City Forms Covid-19 Response Team

A woman pulls her grocery cart as she crosses the streets in Chinatown, on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in New York.

A woman pulls her grocery cart as she crosses the streets in Chinatown, on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in New York. AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The city’s commission on human rights has received 248 reports of harassment and discrimination, with 105 incidents targeting Asian Americans.

New York City officials launched a new initiative this week to battle harassment and discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic, saying there has been a pronounced increase in incidents targeting Asian Americans.

Since February, the city’s Commission on Human Rights recorded 248 reports of harassment or discrimination related to the coronavirus outbreak, 105 of which included anti-Asian harassment or discrimination. That’s compared to five incidents of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination reported over the same time last year.

To respond to reports and connect victims with appropriate resources, the commission formed a Covid-19 response team specifically to handle pandemic-related incidents.

Some incidents may constitute a hate crime, which would be reported to the New York City Police Department. Others may require legal resources or could result in community training and education seminars.

Matters under investigation by the response team include discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of race and national origin.

“Our team of law enforcement bureau and community relations bureau staff are synchronizing their efforts to track and respond to these reports quickly, intervening immediately where possible, and filing cases where necessary,” said Carmelyn Malalis, the chair and commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. “Even in the midst of a pandemic, human rights cannot be violated, and we encourage anyone who has experienced COVID-19-related discrimination to report it to us.”

Federal law enforcement have warned that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans are likely to increase amid the coronavirus outbreak because some Americans will associate the spread of Covid-19 with China and, therefore, the Asian American population.

The infectious respiratory disease emerged in Wuhan, China in November before spreading to other countries including the United States.

Documented incidents of harassment against Asian Americans in the United States have ranged from individuals telling people of Asian descent to go back to China to businesses declining to serve Asian American customers, physical attacks and violence.

Groups tracking incidents of harassment and discrimination have counted upwards of 1,600 reports since mid-February, said Cynthia Choi co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.

The largest number of incident reports have come from New York and California, but the group Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate has received reports about harassment from 45 states, Choi said.

“So, it’s definitely happening across the country,” she said.

As states begin to lift restrictions on businesses and schools, Choi said she expects the number of incidents to rise as more people venture out in public.

“This is all happening while shelter-in-place orders are in effect, so we are anticipating when the economy starts reopening that we could potentially see a surge around this as well,” she said. 

The New York commission has the authority to order anyone who violates the city’s   anti-discrimination laws with civil penalties of up to $250,000. The commission can also award injunctive relief and damages to victims.

In recent months, the commission has held bystander intervention trainings as a way to teach people to de-escalate bias incidents, as well as community forums to advise Asian communities of their rights and protections under the law.

OTHER STORIES on Route Fifty:

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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