WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of the deadly attack on Asian-Americans last week in Georgia, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressman Andy Kim (N.J.-03) today hosted a virtual roundtable with Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community leaders from across New Jersey to discuss the alarming increase in anti-Asian attacks. New Jersey has the third-largest Asian-American population in the nation, with 10% of the state’s population identifying as Asian.
“Throughout this past year, I have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the growing threat of violence facing our Asian American community – in part fueled by our former president’s own words,” said Sen. Menendez. “What Donald Trump failed to realize, is that when you use bigoted and xenophobic terms to describe a global pandemic, you sow division in our communities. You awaken hatred in the hearts of the ignorant. And you put people in danger.”“The organization Stop AAPI Hate has documented nearly 3,800 hate incidents against the AAPI community in the last year alone, and the majority of those were perpetrated against AAPI women,” said Sen. Booker. “These hate incidents are both a part of the rising threat of white supremacist violence and a unique manifestation of the hatred, discrimination, and bias that Asian Americans have faced throughout our country’s history. The hateful words and actions against our AAPI family must stop and we must all recognize our shared responsibility to confront and end this discrimination and violence.”
“The AAPI community deserves to be heard in this moment. The pain and frustration felt is real, and it’s important to not only find solutions to stop Asian hate, but to give members of our community an outlet to speak out,” said Rep. Kim. “I want to thank Senators Menendez and Booker for convening this discussion, and look forward to continuing this work that’s desperately needed to keep our AAPI neighbors safe.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores last year, many top leaders in our nation, including former President Trump, erroneously linked the virus to the AAPI community in an effort to stoke fear and/or shift blame for the previous administration’s failure to respond. As a result, racist rhetoric and violent attacks against the community dramatically spiked.
Across the country, there were nearly 3,800 reported attacks on community members from March 2020 through February 2021; likely an under-reporting. In New Jersey alone, there were 59 reported race-based verbal and physical assaults on AAPI community members during the same period, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.
In Georgia last week, a 21-year-old lone shooter opened fire at three Atlanta-area spas, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian-American women. The attack has reignited fear among AAPI communities in New Jersey and across the nation, with solidarity rallies occurring nationwide over the past week.
“If we need new legislation to address the growing threat of violence against Asian Americans, then I will fight for it. Throughout my life in public service, I have always stood with our AAPI community. You are integral to our New Jersey family. You are part of the incredible diversity that makes our state so unique. And you can count on me to stand with you through thick and thin,” Sen. Menendez added.
Among the local AAPI leaders who took part in today’s roundtable discussion were:
· Andrew Park, Korean American Civic Empowerment Organization
· Virginia Ng, N.J. Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans
· Rolando Lavarro, Jersey City Councilman
· Suchitra Kamath, Inspiring South Asian American Women
· Kiran Gill, Sikh American Legal Defense & Educational Fund
“The news about the Atlanta shooting that killed eight people, including six Asian-American women, was really heartbreaking and horrifying. Whenever we hear anti-Asian hate crimes in the news, it’s personal. We get angry. And we get really sick and tired,” said Andrew Park. “We feel dehumanized, marginalized, alienated and powerless.”
“It is sad to see what is happening in our country, but I am also pleased to see the different communities supporting other people of color. We can no longer deny what is happening and ‘turn the other cheek’, or not reporting hate crimes,” said Virginia Ng. “I have been looked upon as a foreigner, an alien, in my own country. The only country I know. Being born and educated in this country, I am still asked, ‘Do you speak English? Where are you from? Where are you really from?’ or, ‘You speak English so well’, and I answer, ‘So do you’. Why? Because I look different. It shouldn’t matter. This is what America is. What happened to “Give Me your tired, your poor, yearning to breathe free?” America – a nation of immigrants. Something people have seemed to have forgotten,” she added.
“My takeaway from the terrible Atlanta tragedy is that it’s not enough to sympathize with the victims. It’s not enough to express outrage and condemn such actions,” said Councilman Lavarro. “We need to take these crimes seriously by investigating and prosecuting them aggressively. Leaders at all level of government, including the Department of Justice, need to demand greater investigative accountability and prosecutions by law enforcement.”
"These hate crimes directed towards Asians shows me that even in 2021 there is a huge gap between the communities we live in versus the community we want it to be,” said Suchitra Kamath.
“In the current environment, where xenophobia runs rampant, all attacks and assaults are immediately suspect in the eyes of the victim and their community. That is the pernicious reality of acts of hate and discrimination; they terrorize the individual and their community. They can make one question their sense of belonging and identity,” said Kiran Gill. “SALDEF stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Asian American community and condemns all acts of hate and violence. As Sikh Americans, we know all too well the pain of hate and discrimination, but inspired by our chardi kala (optimism), we continue to move forward. We remain committed to our work to ensure all individuals can live free from acts of hate and discrimination.”
Last Friday, Sen. Menendez joined his colleagues in condemning racism and violence against AAPI communities across the nation, while recognizing the invaluable contributions of the more than two million AAPIs working on the frontlines of the pandemic. Earlier this month, Sens. Menendez and Booker have cosponsored the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that would address the significant increase in hate crimes and violence targeted at the AAPI community by assigning a point-person at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes, providing support for state and local law enforcement agencies to respond to these hate crimes, and coordinating with local and federal partners to mitigate racially discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.
As a state legislator, Sen. Menendez authored New Jersey’s first hate crimes law in the wake of targeted attacks on Asian Americans, particularly the state’s Indian and Hindu communities, in the late 1980s. He has long championed efforts to support AAPI communities in New Jersey and across the country. Last year, the senator and his Democratic colleagues sounded the alarm about the increased harassment and violence against AAPIs and he has fought diligently to address COVID-19-related racial disparities.