‘There’s pain in the community’: Data shows increase in anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide, but some worry Chicago’s low numbers stem from lack of reporting

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On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, Chi Chan sat attentively in a pew of a Chinatown church he’s been a part of for some 15 years and listened to Chicago police Officer Jason Sollis give tips on public safety. Chan was there, he said, because crime has gotten so bad in the community that he is afraid to have his parents, who are in their 70s, come to Chinatown.

Across the country, COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for increased aggression toward Asian American communities after the coronavirus was first reported in China over two years ago. Chicago seemed to have far fewer reported hate crimes than other major cities, like Los Angeles or New York City, but residents in Chinatown say numbers don’t tell the full story.

“Anytime there’s a crisis and you can attribute it to a certain ethnic group, I think that’s where there can be an increase in crime,” Chan said. “It’s the natural flow of things. I’m not saying it’s right, but it seems to be normal. COVID happened, and it’s easier to blame a certain ethnic group for the whole world’s lockdown.”

Chicago police Officer Jason Sollis prepares for a presentation to Chinese American residents about public safety and court advocacy for victims of crimes during a safety seminar at Chinese Christian Union Church on May 21, 2022. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

Data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism from 21 major U.S. cities shows anti-Asian hate crimes spiked almost 224% overall from 2020 to 2021 with 114 reported incidents in 2020 to 369 last year, a number higher than any national FBI total since record-keeping began in 1991.

Chicago saw an increase from two to nine reported anti-Asian hate crimes between 2020 and 2021, with another two reported so far this year, according to data from the center. Los Angeles jumped from 15 reported anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 to 41 in 2021, while New York City went from 30 in 2020 to 133 in 2021.

Though Chicago’s numbers are seemingly low, experts also cautioned that may not be a good thing. Most anti-Asian hate crimes are never reported to police, said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor and director and founder of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Chris Javier, a Northwest Side high school teacher and a deacon at Chinese Christian Union Church in Chinatown, started going door to door across the neighborhood last summer with partners from the community and Chicago police’s 9th district community police program “just checking on people” in response to rising crime and anti-Asian harassment.

He said he learned that crime, in general, is “severely underreported” in the community after speaking to more than 1,000 people. Residents are seeing and hearing about a lot of crime in the neighborhood, even though the Chicago Police Department’s data says otherwise, he said.

”We heard from people as we were going around about all this crime that they’re seeing around the community, and CPD’s surprised by this because they are not seeing this in their database, they’re not getting any calls for service,” Javier said.

Javier wanted to take action, so he and his partners held the first safety seminar at the Chinatown church in late May, which also marked Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. More are planned this summer in an effort to address the community’s concerns with reporting crime happening to and around them, as well as to provide tips for staying safe and informed. The goal is to strengthen and empower the community that “has been hurting,” he said.

Friends from Facebook group Subtle Asian Chicago meet at Ping Tom Park in Chinatown for an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration on May 14, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune)

Korean Cultural Center of Chicago member Sophia Pak, center, helps Heesuk Ko with her outfit as they wait to perform during an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration and health fair at Chinatown Square in Chicago on May 14, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune)

Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by more than 76% between 2019 and 2020, according to the FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report. In comparison, anti-Black hate crimes increased by almost 49% and anti-Latino hate crimes decreased by almost 2%, according to the report.

While many felt the weight of rising anti-Asian aggression and crime in the community, some residents believe Chicago itself is a place they feel safe and welcome.

Fei Liang, manager of Phoenix Restaurant in Chicago, immigrated to the city from China in 2003 and said he never really felt anti-Asian hate or discrimination was an issue, even during the early days of the pandemic.

“The virus is a virus,” Liang said. “Nobody brought it, brought the pandemic. People know us and know that.”

He said his restaurant didn’t struggle uniquely compared with any other business when the virus was spreading rapidly and the city shut down, and saw customers return just like everyone else when businesses opened for takeout, and later dine-in.

Jan Zheng, a Naperville resident for nearly 30 years and president of the Chinese American Association of Greater Chicago, an umbrella organization that has 147 Chinese American organizations underneath it across Chicago, said she feels anti-Asian hate and discrimination have always been around but were “amplified” by the pandemic.

Zheng said a friend of hers who has also lived in the greater Chicago area for almost 30 years went back to the office after working from home for some time and had a co-worker, at a company she’d been with for over 20 years, call her “Wuhan queen.”

She saw a different friend, who lives in Springfield, post on social media about a shopping trip at a home improvement hardware store in January 2021 during which she was harassed by a customer who told her to “go back to your own country.”

Zheng said that based on the stories she has heard, people may not report hate crimes because they think it’s not a crime if there is no physical damage. But she said, “Verbal harassment is definitely a hate crime as well.”

The nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate released a report in November that cited over 10,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide from March 2020 through September 2021. Of the incidents reported, verbal harassment made up the largest portion, nearly 63%. Incidents reported by women made up 62% of all the reports.

The Illinois Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes was created in the spring of 2021 to help “lead the way towards eliminating hate, discrimination and bias” in Illinois, according to the commission’s 2021 report. The objective is to not only identify and mitigate the sources of discrimination and bias but also develop resources, training and more to provide “a swift and efficient response to hate-motivated crimes and incidents.”

Some more specific goals the commission has now a little over a year after its formation are to establish a kind of centralized portal for people to report hate crimes simply and legislation to make it clearer to identify the crimes and then prosecute them accordingly. More information about the commission, current ways to report a hate crime and more are available on the commission’s website.

This fall, all public elementary and high schools will include Asian American history in classroom curriculum, as a result of the 2021 passage of the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act. The curriculum will include the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest and the contributions Asian Americans made in civil rights history. Supporters hope it will “improve cross-cultural education and advance racial equity.”

Javier said some of the reasons why people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community may feel hesitant to call 911 or report crimes in other ways are people thinking they won’t be helped, feeling afraid of retribution or seeing language as a barrier — the last of which he said he can help with by teaching community members at safety seminars about how to use Smart 911.

Smart 911 is an app Javier said was news to him when he started researching more about crime in the area about two years ago. The app allows users to input important information, including what languages they speak, so when a person calls 911 using the app, the first voice they are connected with comes from someone who speaks their language.

“That’s powerful for our community,” Javier said. “It gets them access to safety.”

He said he hopes to retrace his “safety walk” steps from last year and add to them in the Bridgeport area, where his church’s South Side location is, to reach even more people. He also wants to have the next safety seminars on weeknights, he said, to accommodate the large number of community members who work in restaurants and can’t make it on weekends so that as many residents can benefit as possible.

“Our community does feel like a lot of the crimes that are happening here are targeted,” Javier said. “Would people label it as a hate crime? It’s not going to show up in the database, but that’s how we feel. There’s pain in the community.”

sahmad@chicagotribune.com

via Chicago Tribune

June 6, 2022 at 07:37AM

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