On Covering Crimes Against Asians (part one)

On Covering Crimes Against Asians (part one)

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist

The headlines and TV coverage two weekends ago were at once shocking and all too familiar. Two mass shootings in California within days of each other, both of them targeting Asian-American communities, one in Chinatown in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles, the second in Half Moon Bay, 40 miles south of San Francisco.

Instantly, the media machine raised the specter of anti-Asian racism and a surge in hate crimes perpetrated on Asian people since the Covid-19 pandemic erupted in January 2020. In each case, it was known only hours later that the shooters were elderly Asian men, rather than white skinhead neo-Nazis in stormtrooper boots and body armor.

Yet many media outlets plumbed the racism angle, anyway.

After the first attack in Monterey Park, on Saturday night, Jan. 21, within hours it was known the suspect was a 72-year-old Asian man. He had entered a dance studio he knew well, shot 20 people (killing 11 of them), and then tried to do the same thing at a second site in Alhambra but was thwarted by a hero. He later shot himself when cornered by the police.

On Sunday evening, eight hours after local authorities held a press conference and identified the first shooter as Asian, the New Yorker published an online essay by the editor of NewYorker.com, Michael Luo: “The Spectre of Anti-Asian Violence in the Monterey Park Shooting.” The deck cites the “familiar apprehension and dread experienced by so many Asian Americans since attacks against them began to soar during the pandemic.”

He invokes the 1880s and how more than 100 western communities expelled Chinese immigrants, and “a massacre that had taken place about a hundred fifty years earlier in Los Angeles,” when 15 Chinese men were hanged. Forgive me, but we are better than that now, yes?

Luo then cites an incident at his daughter’s middle-school basketball game at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn: an opponent on the other team blurts out, “If we lose, I’m going to smack one of those Chinese girls.” He says something to her, the girl’s mother intervenes and gets angry, the girl denies it, and Luo retreats. He felt “palpitating fear.”

From a middle school girl and her mother. What if the girl was simply describing the opposing players, rather than issuing a racist threat?

On Monday morning, a USA Today newsletter to subscribers said that “Asian Americans across the nation say the incident has revived the fears and trauma brought on by a wave of hate incidents and tragedies over the last few years.” How did the reporter manage to interview so many people overnight?

CNN spent most of the day on Monday, after the first shooting, covering the aftermath as an issue of gun control and anti-Asian prejudice. Meanwhile, CNN devoted all of nine seconds to the Antifa riot the previous Saturday night in Atlanta, its home base, as I wrote here.

One guest on CNN, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, cited a rise in hate crimes against Asians and mentioned an arson case that killed 87 people in a New York social club. This was more than 30 years ago, and it involved no racism element at all. By Tuesday, the network had moved on to other news.

So, what are the real statistics regarding racism-motivated attacks on Asians in America?

In the first half of 2022, attacks on Asians fell almost 50% in New York City and 17% in Los Angeles, the two U.S. cities with the largest Asian populations. Also, FBI stats for the year 2020 show hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 70% from the year before—albeit, to just 274 incidents from 161. This was of a total of almost 7,800 hate crimes against all groups, up all of 450 reports from the year before.

This, in a nation of 330 million people, including 24 million Asians.

In the 18 months from March 2020 through September 2021, the group Stop AAPI Hate took in 10,370 complaints nationwide, and over 80% of them involved “verbal harassment” or “shunning.” This amounts to fewer than 7,000 complaints per year, or one incident for every 3,400 Asian people.

In response, Congress passed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to create a new post in the Justice Department for prioritizing the investigation of Covid-related hate crimes. It went into effect in May 2021. Only 40 people have been charged in two years.

None of this was pointed out in the aftermath of the two mass shootings of Asians in California, by two elderly Asian men. This is about feelings rather than statistics, and these days, feelings are all that matter in the media.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."