INDIANAPOLIS — There has been a huge increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States.
According to the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, the crimes have increased 149 percent from 2019 to 2020 in 16 of the country's largest cities. Researchers looked at the crimes being committed since the start of the pandemic, including 4,000 incidents reported from last March through the first three months of this year.
Most of the incidents involved verbal harassment and shunning Asian Americans.
And Indianapolis isn't immune from this disturbing trend.
“It feels like a personal attack on me, a personal attack on me and the people that I love,” said IU sociology professor Dina Okamoto, talking about what happened in Atlanta Tuesday when eight people were shot to death at three businesses.
Among the dead were six Asian women.
Okamoto is still trying to process the horror.
“It kind of makes you wonder what’s next. Am I next? And I think that’s the part that’s frightening for many people,” Okamoto said.
Tuesday’s shootings come at a time of increasing attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and a heightened fear of it.
“So many of us worry about going to Kroger let’s say or going grocery shopping or going to Target and what might happen,” said Ellen Wu, director of IU's Asian American Studies Program
Wu has seen the statistics even before the killings in Atlanta.
“I think people were already afraid for their safety and this just drives it home in this extremely painful way,” she added.
So far, investigators in Atlanta have not called what happened a hate crime.
“I think for many people, there’s no question that this particular - these murders - really intentionally targeted Asian women,” Wu explained.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit that tracks hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, close to 4,000 such incidents have happened since the start of the pandemic, until now.
Some of them, according to media reports have happened in Indiana, including two men who were reportedly turned away from a hotel in northern Indiana after being asked if they were from China. In another incident, an Asian American doctor was reportedly refused service at a gas station after he was accused of being responsible for the coronavirus.
“To have a health care worker turned away from getting gas at a gas station because he was accused of bringing coronavirus and accused of...being scapegoated for the pandemic, is pretty shocking to me,” said University of Michigan professor Melissa Borja.
Borja helped write a petition, sent last week to Governor Eric Holcomb from the Indiana Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. The petition had more than 2,000 signatures, including some from Indiana lawmakers, as well as the backing of more than 30 organizations.
It called on Holcomb to publicly recognize and condemn acts of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as put in place programs and procedures to support these communities and establish a statewide advisory committee for AAPIs.
“There’s no place for it. Not just in Indiana, but in the country and fortunately we have some legal recourse for those who have been wronged,” the governor said in his weekly media briefing on Wednesday, when asked about the petition.
Holcomb issued a statement Thursday that referenced his 2019 bias crime law:
“Anyone that seeks to terrorize or cause fear needs to be held accountable for that. Racism is counter to Hoosier values. It’s not what we stand for. I championed and signed a historic bias crimes law in 2019 to protect those who are the target of these crimes and to take a strong stand against targeted violence. There is no higher priority than the safety and security of Hoosiers."
“The fact that he doesn’t name Asian Americans in that statement is to me a missed opportunity to show that he cares about Asian Americans at this time when Asian Americans are grieving the death of many Asian American women in Atlanta,” said Borja.
The Indiana State Senate passed a resolution Thursday denouncing anti-Asian and Pacific Islander racism and any form of bias crime in Indiana resulting from the coronavirus.
For Okamoto, more efforts toward awareness need to happen in Indiana and across the country.
“We have to do multiple things to educate people about what’s happening and why it’s happening,” said Okamoto. “It’s devastating, completely."