People gather in Brooklyn, New York in August 2020 to protest against hate crimes after the attack of an 89 year old Asian woman in Bensonhurst. Photo: Sam Aronov

In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law two bills that address the unprecedented number of bias incidents and hate crimes in the state. Initially aimed to confront the rise of such cases against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, the laws will also aid in defense of LGBTQs, who have experienced a similar increase. It’s an example of the importance of allies and cooperation among victimized communities to provide the means to combat harassing comments and violent behavior spurred by racial/sexual slurs, conspiracy theories, and political rhetoric.

Earlier, in June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (the first Filipino American named to the position when Newsom appointed him last year; he stands for election in November) released his office’s report on hate crimes statistics for 2021, which revealed that figures for the state are at their highest levels in more than 20 years. In California, hate crimes are defined as crimes “against a person, group, or property motivated by the victim’s real or perceived protected social group.” Some threatening behavior or speech do not rise to the level of a hate crime but can be equally traumatizing and harmful to one’s mental health and well-being.

The AG’s report states that hate crimes reported in California increased 32.6% between 2020-2021, with the number of hate crimes against Black people still the most frequent overall but whose increase was 12.5%. Hate crimes against Asians “increased dramatically” by 177.5%. “Anti-Hispanic or Latino bias events increased 29.6%,” according to the report, and “among hate crime events involving religious bias, anti-Jewish bias events were the most prevalent and increased 32.2%.” Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people increased by 47.8%, although reported anti-transgender bias events fell 29.6% and those concerning gender bias decreased 12.9%.

During the same year period, the number of cases filed for prosecution by district attorneys and elected city attorneys involving hate crime charges in California increased by 30.1% (of the 610 hate crimes reported as referred for prosecution, 411 cases were filed of which 285 were hate crimes and 126 were non-bias motivated hate crimes). In response to these figures, Bonta announced the creation of a statewide hate crime coordinator within the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Law Division “in order to further assist state and local law enforcement efforts to combat hate crime,” he stated.

LGBTQ+ and allied Asian and Pacific Islander Californians are part of a coalition of community groups and state lawmakers looking to stem the tide of hate crimes against API individuals and other targeted identities by supporting two bills known collectively as the No Place for Hate Campaign that were signed into law by the governor in September and will become effective in January 2023.

The first, Senate Bill 1161 authored by state Senator Dave Min (D-Costa Mesa), called “Improving Public Transit Ridership Safety” aims to protect LGBTQ+ people, cisgender women and other vulnerable transit riders. The law requires the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University to create a community survey for California transit operators to strengthen and promote passenger safety.

Andy Wong, a gay Chinese American who is director of advocacy for Chinese for Affirmative Action and who was an early booster, wrote that the bill would provide “concrete tools to continue to combat street harassment that is impacting not just the API community but women and girls, the LGBTQ community, and other impacted communities.”

The second law, Assembly Bill 2448 written by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), is titled “Expanding Civil Rights Protections at Businesses” and directs the state’s Civil Rights Department to create a first-of-its-kind pilot program that incentivizes businesses to create a safe and welcoming environment for customers. After his bill was signed into law, Ting tweeted, “Businesses can lead in the fight against hate.”

“It is saying … when it comes to addressing the hate, sexual harassment, and street harassment we need everyone to be all in.”

Janice Li, Coalition for Community Safety and Justice

Janice Li, a queer woman who in January took over as director of the Coalition for Community Safety and Justice, where she focuses on AAPI community-based safety initiatives and is also an elected member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board, said, “I really see these two bills as putting the onus on both the public sector and recognizing the need for the private sector to step up. It is saying … when it comes to addressing the hate, sexual harassment, and street harassment we need everyone to be all in.”

These laws will attempt to address hateful and harassing behavior, which mostly occur when Californians shop and travel. Chinese for Affirmative Action, AAPI Equity Alliance, and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department launched the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center in March 2020 and received reports on 11,500 hate incidents across the U.S. – the first ever attempt to quantify such data nationwide.

An analysis of the data was released in July and noted that two in three reported incidents involve harassment, such as hate speech or inappropriate gestures, while people go about the mundane routines of daily life and cannot be considered prosecutable hate crimes. California, with 4,333 incidents, accounted for the largest number of occurrences reported to the center. The report also noted overlapping reasons that can increase one’s likelihood of being victimized: “AAPI individuals who are also female, nonbinary, or LGBTQIA+ experience hate incidents that target them for their multiple identities.”

Stop AAPI Hate, working with the AAPI community, has offered several initiatives to address anti-hatred racism, one of which is promoting legislation that enforces and expands civil rights protections – these two bills are the first attempts to do just that. Other recommendations include ensuring AAPI students and their issues are supported and included in curricula and schools, as well as developing effective community-driven solutions that provide safety models that center on healing and prevention with LGBTQ+ people and other targeted communities. Asian Americans are leading the fight against hate crimes in California; our collective voice advocating for solutions for all people is how we will confront hatred together in our common cause.

Michael Yamashita is the publisher of Bay Area Reporter.

Michael Yamashita is the publisher of Bay Area Reporter.