May 7, 2020


PERF’s COVID-19 coronavirus resources, including past editions of the Daily COVID-19 Report, are available at


Asian-Americans Face Hate Crimes and Intimidation During the Pandemic

On a subway train in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month, a man allegedly grabbed an Asian-American passenger and attempted to pull him off the train, shouting, “You’re infected China boy, you need to get off the train.” Incidents like this one, in which individuals are being blamed for COVID-19, illustrate the heightened vulnerability to hate crimes and speech that Asian-Americans are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

In today’s COVID-19 report, PERF examines the nature and extent of hate crimes against Asian Americans and how police departments and other organizations are responding.


Key Takeaways

  1. Under-reporting:  For the most part, cities are not seeing an increase in reported hate crimes targeting Asian Americans. However, reported crimes are not an accurate indicator of the problem, because members of the Asian-American community are often reluctant to contact the police.
  2. Partnerships are key:  Police should be proactive about establishing partnerships with community leaders, advisory councils, and advocacy groups so that community members know what a hate crime is and understand that these crimes should be reported. Partnerships with community groups should be established before a critical incident occurs.
  3. Tracking and keeping records on incidents:  Agencies should track hate speech and bias incidents, even if they do not rise to the level of a crime. These incidents instill fear in the community and can be precursors to hate crimes.
  4. Use social media and news media:  Police are finding that using social media and traditional news media is important for disseminating prevention messages to the community, and to share information about reported incidents. It is important to use media platforms that are used by Asian-American communities.
  5. Be aware of language barriers:  If your department has officers who speak Cantonese or Mandarin, use those officers to directly engage with those communities. If your agency does not have officers who understand those languages, consult with community organizations to find interpreters.
  6. Make it easy to report crimes:  The process for reporting hate crimes and other incidents should be user-friendly for the Asian-American community, with materials available in multiple languages.
  7. Be aware of the risk of gun violence:  Some police agencies are reporting increased gun permit applications by Asian-Americans who fear being attacked.  It is important for police leaders to send the message that the police will protect all members of the community, and that violence is not an appropriate response.


San Francisco Chief William Scott:

We’re Working to Address Underreporting in Asian Communities

Through advocacy groups and social media sites, we were informed of a huge uptick in hate crime, but we were not seeing that in terms of hate crime reporting to the police. On the street, we were hearing about incidents that were not being reported, such as discriminatory comments including “Go back to your country.”

Though these incidents do not necessarily amount to the legal definition of a hate crime, they are deeply upsetting and causing division in our city. This prompted the District Attorney and me to release a video informing people about the hate crime reporting process and encouraging them to report. People seem to be happy that we are focusing on this issue.

After the video’s release, we have not seen a dramatic increase in reporting of hate crime. In San Francisco, we believe that our Asian communities, particularly the Chinese community, does underreport crime. Before the pandemic, we had been working on increased outreach, including a campaign late last year with community leaders to encourage people to report hate crime and other types of unreported crimes happening in the Asian community. Hopefully, these efforts will help us turn the corner on encouraging more people to report crimes.


Bellevue, WA Chief Steve Mylett

We Held a Virtual Town Hall to Address Bigotry Against Asian-Americans

We are fortunate that our civilian staff are well connected to the Chinese community. One of my employees is a member of eight different WeChat groups [a messaging and social media app popular in China] in Bellevue.

As a result of relationship-building through WeChat and the Asian Pacific Islander Advisory Council, we became aware of hate incidents going on in Bellevue directed toward the Chinese community. These hate-related incidents were prevalent across the board with the Asian community, but we were not seeing reports increasing.

We have had two reports come in on our dedicated telephone line, which weren’t hate crimes by the definition of the law, but they were bigoted comments. In one case, when a woman opened the window in her apartment, she was faced with a big sign in her neighbor’s window that says “China-Virus U.S. deaths 53,449.”

We reached out to the person who has this message on her window, and we were convinced that she has bigoted views. However, she is protected under the First Amendment, and it’s not rising to the level of a hate crime. These bigoted comments are happening in the community and are not being reported.

To encourage people to report incidents, we consulted with the Asian Pacific Islander Advisory Council, our diversity team, and other community stakeholder groups and decided to host a virtual Town Hall. We had someone translating in Mandarin with 225 people in attendance. This event was carried live on our Bellevue public access television channel, Facebook, and WeChat. The response we got was 100% positive. We showed the Asian-American community that we care, and that we are here to serve and protect them.


Seattle Chief Carmen Best:

We Did an Outreach Video with an Asian-American Journalist 

For our outreach video, we had the opportunity to work with Lori Matsukawa, an award-winning Asian-American journalist. We put it out on Twitter and Facebook, and it was retweeted, liked and replied to almost 2,000 times. The community response was overwhelmingly positive and powerful, as people supported the participation of a well-respected community leader.

We have not seen a marked increase in hate crimes overall, but we have seen a slight uptick in incidents against our Asian community. Some of the extremist groups have exploited the situation by going into our Chinatown International District and putting racist flyers on buildings and cars.

Internally, we sent a message reminding our officers to take reports of all incidents, including those that don’t necessarily rise to the level of a hate crime, but involve hateful language. We record all reported hate crimes on our public dashboard so people can see where these incidents are occurring.

The key is partnerships, as we work with our Asian-American Advisory Council for community relationship-building. Also, we deployed a crime prevention officer who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin to our Chinatown International District, and we have someone specifically assigned to do outreach and engagement.


Vancouver, BC Chief Adam Palmer:

Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Increased Fivefold

We have seen a fivefold increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes in the first third of the year through April. We track incidents that fall into the crime spectrum as well as those that are outside of it, such as bias incidents involving racially charged comments and slurs. We have seen an increase in unprovoked and aggravated assaults, vandalism, and graffiti spreading messages of exterminating people and Hitler references against the Chinese community. Historically in Vancouver, the number one group targeted for hate crimes is the Jewish community, but now the Chinese and Asian communities have become the most targeted groups.

We have been using our Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking officers to conduct community outreach. Also, we identified community leaders and amplified their concerns to the broader community through Webex meetings. The Chinese Cultural Center, the Chinese Benevolent Association, and the Business Improvement Association have been an important part of the conversation.

We've also translated literature on how to report hate crimes, and streamlined reporting forms in Mandarin and Cantonese, which could be part of the reason our reported numbers are up so high.

Asian community members can provide reports in their native tongue and give it to the Chinese Community Policing Center in the heart of Chinatown, or to the Chinese Benevolent Association, who will then forward it to the police for a follow-up investigation.

Also, we have worked with our local Asian media outlets who are picking up these stories, as we have a fairly robust Asian media market in Vancouver. Some of these stories were getting picked up by the South China Morning Post, which is one of the largest circulation papers in the world. It is important to get these stories out and inform the public of these terrible incidents occurring in the community.


Montgomery County, MD Chief Marcus Jones

We Were Concerned about Gun Purchases by Asian-Americans

On April 14, we had a virtual Town Hall meeting in conjunction with the County Executive’s Community Partnership Office, which has specific liaisons in our different ethnic communities. We found out there was an increase of Asian-Americans purchasing handguns in Maryland.

Our partnerships helped us learn that our Chinese-American community developed chat rooms, where a group of “posses” stated that if anybody was being harassed or discriminated against in their community, these individuals would bring guns to eradicate the situation. There is clearly a fear factor present when individuals are going and buying guns to protect themselves, rather than calling the police. So we felt a need to send a message out to the community and tell them that was not the way to resolve these issues.

We document all hate crimes as well as bias incidents and share this information with our community. Communication on these issues is extremely important, and community liaisons have become our messengers.


RESOURCES:  Anti-Hate Organizations Are Responding to COVID-19-Related Incidents

Several organizations are mobilizing to respond to hate crimes during the pandemic, especially those targeting Asian-American communities. Here are some resources that police agencies may find helpful.

  • The Anti-Defamation League has issued several reports on hate-related activity brought on by coronavirus fears and misinformation. The ADL also offers training and on-call services to Asian-American organizations on hate crime response, and it hosts a series of webinars called “Fighting Hate from Home” to keep the public informed on hate activity.The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council launched the STOP AAPI HATE reporting center to track hate incidents. A webpage provides a form in several languages to report hate incidents.
    • The ADL provides a form on its website to report an anti-Semitic, bias or discriminatory incidents; the form is being advertised across all of its social media accounts.
  • The Asian American Psychological Association has produced a three-page guide with resources for mental health wellness and self-care and healing in the midst of rising discrimination against Asian Americans.
  • The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance developed guidance for AAPI workers dealing with discrimination and harassment in the workplace related to the pandemic.
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice has created a Stand Against Hatred website that provides resources and a form for reporting hate incidents in multiple languages.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.

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