Violence against Asian Americans worries community members in RI
The Providence Journal
By Jack Perry
March 31, 2021
Growing up in Providence, Wing Chau, a Chinese American, was called "every name in the book," he says.
With family in the restaurant business, Chau finds "disheartening" the derogatory language some customers still use with staff members, but he says "I love Rhode Island" and welcomed the chance to return in 2019 to work as U.S. marshal in the state.
Like many, Chau is concerned about an increase in discrimination and acts of violence nationwide against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. He appreciated it when Acting U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Richard B. Myrus called him, former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Pawtucket businessman Louis Yip and others together for a meeting last week to hear their concerns and show support.
Fung says he's unaware of any increase in discrimination or violence against members of the Chinese-American community in Rhode Island, but also says violent incidents from other parts of the country, such as New York City and California, have people worried about their safety.
"Locally, we've been very fortunate in that we have not in the Chinese community had any hate-crime issues," Fung said.
In Midtown Manhattan on Monday, a 65-year-old Asian-American woman was hospitalized with serious injuries after she was attacked. A man punched and kicked her and also hurled anti-Asian insults at her, USA TODAY reported.
In a statement, the New York Police Department called the incident "a hate crime assault" and said its Hate Crime Task Force was investigating. A suspect was arrested Tuesday night.
The New York City attack, which happened in daytime in front of witnesses who didn't intervene, is one of the most recent examples of violent crime against Asian Americans. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that's trying to address anti-Asian discrimination, has received some 3,800 reports of "hate incidents" since March 2020, according to the organization.
"People are really concerned," said Yip, a former restaurateur who is now a real-estate developer. "I've heard it from small-business people and the elderly."
About 3.9%, or roughly 39,200 people, of Rhode Island's population is Asian, according to 2019 Census figures.
Chau, who is the first Asian American in the nation to serve as U.S. marshal, says Chinese Americans have been living with discrimination and derogatory comments for years, but tend to keep it to themselves.
"They're not a vocal community. They're very quiet. They don't even want to admit to even being victims," he said.
Some feel that their voices won't be heard, Chau says. That belief, he said, may reach back to an 1854 California Supreme Court ruling that a Chinese man who witnessed a murder by a white man could not testify at trial. The court said the Chinese were "a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior."
That's not the message Chau, Fung and Yip received during a meeting last week with Myrus and Amy Romero, an assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the civil-rights unit. Yip described the meeting as "very helpful."
Myrus said he wanted to listen to the concerns of Asian American community members and "describe the resources that the Department of Justice has to address discrimination and hate crimes."
He said his office is "committed to protecting the civil rights of all Rhode Islanders.
“The United States Attorney’s Office condemns racism, xenophobia and intolerance," Myrus said in an emailed statement. "No one in America should fear violence because of his or her race, ethnicity or national origin."
Fung said the U.S. Attorney's Office was "very proactive" in reaching out and has offered to speak to community groups. Fung says he's been encouraged with the way public safety officials and governmental bodies in Rhode Island have made strong statements condemning discrimination and violence against Asian Americans.
One immediate result of the meeting should help members of the Chinese Christian Church of Rhode Island feel more comfortable, according to Fung and Yip.
The church in Pawtucket has been holding services remotely during the pandemic, but is planning to resume in-person services. Safety concerns were raised at the meeting, and the U.S. Attorney's Office helped arrange for a safety review of the church this week by public-safety officials, according to Yip.
"What's most important for us," Yip said, "is how to prevent [problems] from happening."
Chau said the message needs to be shared that discrimination and violence is "not acceptable." He said, "We need to educate people that they don't have to tolerate it."
The U.S. Attorney's Office can says people can report civil rights violations by calling the office's civil rights prosecutor at 401-709-5010 or download a form via the web at USARI.CivilRightsComplaint@usdoj.gov.
The FBI can be reached at 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324) or at https://tips.fbi.gov/.