The brutal, fatal assault on Vicha Ratanapakdee, an elderly Thai man in San Francisco that took place on Jan. 28, did not happen in a vacuum. The video of an assailant shoving Ratanapakdee to the ground spread around the world, leading advocates and public figures to demand justice. But this attack was also just one in a recent surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic has made way for racist scapegoating of Asian Americans over the past year — revealing a systemic and ongoing problem.
San Francisco police arrested 19-year-old Antoine Watson this week on charges of murder and elder abuse in regard to Ratanapakdee’s death. He has pleaded not guilty, but a judge has ordered him to be held without bail as he awaits trial.
Many Asian Americans have faced incredible physical and verbal abuse in the past year, exacerbated by former President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 the “China virus” because of its first known cases in Wuhan, China. Included in the flurry of executive orders President Biden signed on his first days in office was a measure aimed at combating anti-Asian racism due to the pandemic.
“An estimated 2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have served on the front lines of this crisis as healthcare providers, as first responders and in other essential roles,” the memorandum reads. “The Federal Government should combat racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and should work to ensure that all members of AAPI communities — no matter their background, the language they speak or their religious beliefs — are treated with dignity and equity.”
Whether or not President Biden’s efforts will be able to help successfully combat the problem remains to be seen.
In addition to its viciousness, the unwarranted assault of Ratanapakdee (who was literally walking alone in the driveway of a home when the suspect railed into him) has revealed a surprising lack of awareness of anti-Asian hate crime in the U.S. Civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen took to Twitter to demand mainstream news outlets cover these attacks.
In the same week that Ratanapakdee was murdered, a Vietnamese grandmother was assaulted and mugged in San Jose, California and a Filipino American man, Noel Quintana was slashed across the face in a New York City subway station. Another video of a 91-year-old man being shoved to the pavement in Oakland, California has also gone viral.
“Mainstream media does not spotlight our stories. Racism Kills,” Nguyen tweeted.
This week a Thai American was MURDERED, a Viet grandmother was assaulted & a Fillipino American was slashed across the face. Mainstream media does not spotlight our stories. Racism Kills. @CNN @MSNBC @maddowshow @andersoncooper cover us! We are dying to be heard. #justiceforvicha pic.twitter.com/P4OHZuwZjU
— Amanda 🚀 (@nguyen_amanda) February 6, 2021
DiversityInc has previously reported on anti-Asian racism during the pandemic leading to the cancellation of student visas and a rise in racist harassment against Asians, despite Asian Americans taking early action against the spread of the virus — and making up a large percentage of the medical community fighting it. Asian American women also continue to be the hardest hit by COVID-19-related job losses.
The viral video of Ratanapakdee’s attack has gotten international attention, including from celebrities like Gemma Chan, Paris Hilton, Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu. The hashtags #JusticeForVicha and #AsiansAreHuman have also been trending on Twitter. Wu and Kim have offered a $25,000 reward for anyone who had information on the suspect in the attack in Oakland. One arrest has since been made.
San Francisco’s mayor and police chief have vowed to address the violence, according to CBS. On Tuesday, Feb. 9, The Washington Post reported that Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley would be creating a specialized response unit to investigate hate crimes against Asian Americans with a focus on the elderly.
As the Lunar New Year approaches, many Asian Americans fear they won’t be able to celebrate safely. Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas told the Washington Post she was working to keep Asian residents safe during the holiday. She said the Oakland Chinatown Coalition has been responding to the incidents by organizing safety walks and neighborhood strolls and inviting the community to participate.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an alarming uptick in hate crimes and incidents targeting innocent Asian Americans. We must continue to speak out against this violence and ensure these attacks are reported and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. https://t.co/iXNqovvAJ2
— CAPAC (@CAPAC) February 6, 2021
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also says it plans to up its focus on education and legislation to stop hate crimes. The previously proposed No Hate Act would also aid in the fight, improving the tracking and reporting of these violent and unwarranted incidents. In the meantime, websites like Stop AAPI Hate have taken a grassroots approach to logging hate crimes against Asian Americans.