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Immunity Needed Against the Virus of Hate

Last year, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on political leaders, the media, and civil society to unite on a global effort against hate speech, to “strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”[1] This call for action came about in response to the targeted attacks Asians and people of Asian descent have faced worldwide since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discriminatory actions and rhetoric carried out by government officials, institutions, and individual citizens have arisen in several countries, with the United States leading in the number of hate crimes reported and the magnitude of these actions.[2]

A woman is wearing a mask as she walks to her destination during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New York City. UN7859210 UN Photo

Countries like the United Kingdom recorded 267 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the first three months of the past year, higher figures than in the previous two years. In Russia, the government enacted a travel ban against Chinese citizens during the early days of the pandemic. While in its capital city, public transportation drivers were under orders to report Chinese passengers to the police. In addition to these actions, the police were already conducting raids to identify Chinese citizens and force them into quarantine, regardless of whether they had previously traveled outside of the country or not. In other regions like Australia, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes included vandalism incidents on the homes of individuals of Asian descent and Chinese-Australian; there was an incident where two Chinese students were physically and verbally assaulted on campus at Melbourne University.[2]

In the United States, the number of incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is concerningly greater than in the rest of the world. The recently established Stop AAPI Hate reporting center stated in their most recent national report that from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021, it received accounts of 3,795 incidents. California was the state where more reports originated, with a total of 1,691 cases, followed by New York with 517 incidents. Most of these discriminatory actions constituted verbal harassment, shunning, and physical abuse.[3] Among some of the most recent incidents, in New York, last month, a 61-years-old man from the Philippines was assaulted in a New York City train while on his way to work, his face slashed with a box cutter; an Asian woman was punched in the face on a subway platform,[4] and a Chinese man was attacked by a stranger who stabbed him in the back. The latest attack occurred in Georgia, where a man shot and killed eight people at three different spas in Atlanta, 6 of whom were women of Asian descent. It is clear from the number of incidents previously mentioned, and many more like them, that these have been racially targeted actions against the AAPI community. Yet, the lack of concrete evidence has prevented some, if not most, of these crimes from being investigated as hate crimes. The perpetrator who stabbed the Chinese man in New York never uttered racial slurs at the victim and the Atlanta shooter claimed his actions were acts of vengeance for his “sexual addiction.”[5]

Street Scene in New York City during COVID-19 Outbreak UN7858958 UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The number of cases being investigated as hate crimes from coast to coast in the United States remains relatively low compared to the number of incidents reported in states like New York and California. According to police data gathered by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University and Voice of America, 122 cases in 16 of the major cities of the country were recorded as Anti-Asian hate crimes. In California, the leading state of racial attacks reported, there were 15 incidents in Los Angeles, an increase from 7 in the previous year, 10 in San Jose, and 9 in San Francisco. New York City registered the highest number, with 28 incidents of Anti-Asian hate crimes, increasing from only 3 cases in 2019.[6]

[1] António Guterres (@antonioguterres) “#COVID19 does not care who we are, where we live, or what we believe. Yet the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia...” Twitter, May 8, 2020,

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Covid-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia Worldwide,” May 12, 2020,

[3] Stop AAPI Hate, “Stop AAPI Hate National Report,” March 16, 2021,

[4] Rachel Hatzipanagos and Marian Liu, “'Nobody Came, Nobody Helped': Fears of Anti-Asian Violence Rattle the Community,” The Washington Post, WP Company, February 25, 2021,

[5] Jonah E. Bromwich and Nicole Hong, “Asian-Americans Are Being Attacked. Why Are Hate Crime Charges So Rare?” The New York Times, March 18, 2021,

[6] Masood Farivar, “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spiked by 150% in Major US Cities,” Voice of America, March 2, 2021,


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