KEY POINTS

  • An FBI report to local law agencies said Asian American communities were at risk from racist acts and hate crimes during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Alleged incidents have included harassment, being denied service by various businesses, and assault
  • Some blame has been placed on the Trump administration for the language used by President Trump and his staff when referring to the pandemic

The FBI warned Friday it has seen a surge in alleged hate crimes and racist incidents targeting Asian Americans as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to grow.

“The FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities,” the FBI said in a report to local law enforcement. “The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom backed up the FBI’s report, saying there has been a “huge increase” in racist acts targeting the state’s Asian American community.

Alleged incidents have included people being spit on, suffering verbal harassment, being kicked out of businesses or being the victims of physical assault.

In Midland, Texas, an Asian American family, including children ages 2 and 6, suffered an assault at a Sam’s Club March 14. The suspect, Jose Gomez, allegedly told police he did it “because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.”

“It shows how pervasive and widespread these anti-Asian cases are occurring,” San Francisco State University Asian American studies Professor Russell Jeung said. Jeung had been looking into reported incidents of xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans and said there had been more than 1,000 incidents between Jan. 28 and Feb. 24 when COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S.

A Seattle resident and Korean American, identified only as Kari, shared her own experiences with discrimination earlier in March at a local grocery store. She said another shopper allegedly told her child they couldn’t be in the same line as Kari or they would get sick. Kari said she went back to the store a week later, and a cashier allegedly refused to check her out, saying it was break time.

“We live in a scary world, but it's unbelievable that this is happening,” Kari said.

Blame has also been levied at President Trump for calling COVID-19 as the “China virus.” He has  defended the term by saying it was a simple way of pointing to where the virus came from. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to refer to the disease as the "Wuhan virus" to make clear the virus did not originate in the United States.

“It did come from China, it is a very accurate term,” Trump said during a press briefing Tuesday. Trump allowed during Thursday's press briefing, however, saying, “We have to protect our Asian Americans.”

“Maybe it is China’s fault or the [Chinese] government’s fault,” National Council of Asian Pacific Americans Director Gregg Orton said. “There will be a time and place for that conversation. But right now we’re in the thick of this and we have to be mindful of the language we’re using.”

A group of asian travellers arrive in Termini central station in Rome, during Italy's lockdown A group of asian travellers arrive in Termini central station in Rome, during Italy's lockdown Photo: AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE