Yao Pan Ma was collecting bottles and cans to sell in order to support his family, an act of necessity for the 61 year-old man after the lockdown cost him and his wife their jobs. Christina Yuna Lee finally found herself in the comfort and safety of her apartment room after a long day of work, taking every precaution on her way home to avoid trouble. These two moments tell different stories of the mosaic Asian American community, but they share a tragic ending. Both of them were innocently living their lives, and both of them were senselessly murdered.
Every time this happens, we are reminded of just how dangerous life is for Asian Americans. We find comfort and solace in our shared grieving as we search for answers; we look deep into our conscience to find forgiveness and hope for a better future. But when these crimes happen again and again, and our political class recites the same prayers and promises of change, it is hard not to despair.
When my own mother tells me that she is afraid to take the subway — the same one she once proudly took to work everyday as a new immigrant to support me when I was young — my gut wrenches. My heart aches knowing that there are many people today who are in the position she is, fearing for their own lives as they struggle for a better one. This agitates my mind for change. Even though our ruling political class and the mainstream media do not take our fears seriously — only paying lip service to us — the data tells the truth; it confirms the crisis of hate and crime tormenting the Asian American community.
According to Axios, which has early access to unpublished research by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, Anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 339% in 2021 from the previous year. This spike comes after record increases in 2020, where the FBI recorded a 32.2% spike in the number of hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry compared to 2019. Both official and academic statistics likely only capture the tip of the iceberg, as many hate crimes are either miscategorized as normal crimes or simply not reported to law enforcement. A 2021 survey conducted by AAPI Data called attention to just how severely hate crimes are under reported by the Asian American community. Although Asian Americans experience hate incidents and crimes at a rate much higher compared to that of the general population, their responses to the survey indicated they are the least likely racial group to report instances of hate to the proper authorities.
This hesitancy to report hate crimes obscures the severity of the crisis, and creates a negative stereotype that we are too timid to act. We must shatter this stereotype by fighting back against the wave of crime afflicting our community; this is the challenge of our day. Central to this pushback is intense political organization. Politics is the weapon that the Asian American community must leverage to bludgeon hate-inspired criminality in society.
Our major cities, where Anti-Asian hate crimes are the most concentrated, have fallen victim to a regressive set of criminal justice policies spurred by a misguided sense of political idealism — this political idealism blames society as the ultimate progenitor of crime, absolving the criminal of individual responsibility. It demands that we defund the police and grant leniency when sentencing career criminals. These two policies in particular encourage criminality by making it easier to commit crimes and reducing the cost of said crimes simultaneously. If we want to seriously tackle the rise in Asian hate crimes, we must aggressively push back against these well-intentioned but miscalculated policies by voting out every single politician who supports them in favor of those who aren’t afraid to get tough on crime.
We need mayors willing to declare war on crime. We need state legislators willing to spare no cost in ensuring our police officers have the resources and tools necessary to carry out their jobs effectively. We need police commissioners willing to flood the streets with police officers to ensure public safety. And we need judges willing to apply the full weight of the law against those who believe they are above it.
Some may say I am being hyperbolic about our society being too soft on crime. In response, I ask you to consider a fundamental truth in the aforementioned stories of Christina Yuna Lee and Yao Pan Ma. In both cases, the criminals who murdered them had lengthy criminal records. ABC News reported that Ma’s murderer was arrested and charged many times prior to his killing, convicted on charges such as assault, kidnapping, sexual misconduct and sexual assault — a person with his rap should never have been afforded the chance to strike again. The career criminal who murdered Lee had 18 prior arrests, with charges ranging from burglary to assault, according to the New York Daily. This person was released by a judge without bail, just five weeks before murdering Lee, on the charges of attacking another person in the subway and evading police afterwards.
Maybe you believe that he deserved leniency for such a crime, or that Ma’s murderer honestly did deserve a second chance — or in his case, what was a 15th chance. However, it is almost certainly true that both Ma and Lee would still be alive today if their murderers were behind bars in the first place. If you believe the principal goal of our criminal justice system is to prevent and remedy such horrific acts, then it must show the strength necessary to secure peace in the Asian American community.