As coronavirus cases continue to rise, so do hate crimes

Minorites such as Asians and Jews have been victim to an alarmingly high number of hate crimes in the U.S. since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.


Steven Senne/AP Photo

A group of Asian-Americans protest outside of the Statehouse in Boston, Mass. Hate crimes aimed at Asian communites across the U.S. have soared in recent months.

Tony Truong is not alone.

On a late February day in Arizona, Truong was playing poker with a group of men when he suddenly coughed. The man sitting next to him immediately questioned Truong. “Are you Chinese? Did you just come back from China?” Truong, a Vietnamese-American, was appalled at the stranger’s reaction. Truong recalled this eye-opening confrontation to The Center for Public Integrity back in April.

The coronavirus has caused a spewage of hate crimes across the United States. Although Asian-Americans are the most targeted, other minorities have experienced similar acts of hate, including immigrants and Jews.

After multiple public officials deemed COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” in mid-March, hate incidents dramatically increased, with over 30 reports of anti-Asian demonstrations in the latter half of March, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Like often in history, the public finds the need for a scapegoat in dire times. In the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of spreading the Bubonic Plague. In the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants were blamed for the U.S. cholera epidemic.

After 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment was greatly evident, with Muslim restaurants set ablaze, and shots being fired in mosque parking lots. The 2003 SARS outbreak is the most recent example of anti-Asian rhetoric inside the United States. Asian-Americans were singled out, and the media ran false headlines claiming the disease was rapidly spreading inside the country.

While the majority of hate crimes come from right-wing male extremists, the xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements stemming from the coronavirus outbreak have come from people of varying backgrounds. Many of the reported hate crimes originated in New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. In April, four teenage girls used an umbrella to attack a 51-year old Asian woman on a New York MTA bus in the Bronx, screaming expletives at her while telling her she caused the coronavirus.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio caused an uproar after singling out the Jewish community in a tweet criticizing those who were not complying with social distancing measures. A large funeral gathering took place among ultra-Orthodox Jews in late April, with de Blasio personally traveling to the scene in an attempt to break up the massive gathering. His tweet fueled even more anti-Semitism, after other Jewish communities outside of the city experienced the act of “zoombombing” during religious services, where congregants witnessed anti-Semitic acts on the video-app Zoom. Incidents like these continue to surge, following an 18% increase in anti-Semitism in 2019 alone.

While health officials are figuring out how to combat the virus, law enforcement is taking measures to combat the spread of hate. The FBI thoroughly investigates hate crimes, and will continue to do so. The agency has given warnings to local and state governments about the heightened threat of domestic terrorists during the pandemic.

Government agencies have successfully dealt with similar instances before, such as the spike in racism following the 9/11 attacks. The Department of Justice made sure President George W. Bush, the attorney general, and FBI Director issued statements that made clear that Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans are Americans, too. The Justice Department also worked with Middle Eastern and South Asian communities affected by the terrorist attacks.

The coronavirus continues to take its toll on not only those who fall ill from the virus, but those who are subject to xenophobic and anti-Semitic messages.

Just as it will take global cooperation to defeat COVID-19, it will take the entire world to defeat hate.