Andrew Yang is Right about How to Fight Anti-Asian Hate Crime | Opinion

Andrew Yang—the businessman, 2020 presidential contender, universal basic income advocate and current frontrunner to be the next mayor of New York City—ignited controversy once again on Sunday when he told a crowd of supporters he would fight a recent surge of crimes against Asian New Yorkers by fully funding the NYPD's Asian Hate Crimes Task Force.

The promise elicited cheers, but also boos and chants of "defund the police," as Yang waded into one of the most contentious issues in city politics. To his credit, Yang did not back down: "I know that there are people that are very passionate about this, but the fact is when someone gets stabbed, you need the police to follow up. That person should not be on the streets."

A spate of high-profile crimes against Asian Americans—including last week's horrific murder of eight people, six of them Asian women, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors—has followed last year's 145 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes across major cities. In New York City, the NYPD has counted 10 possible incidents so far this year, including public assaults and threatening comments.

Yang is right. The best way to stop these crimes, no matter what motivated them, is to bolster police forces and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law. The outrage his argument elicited is just another sign of the absurdity of the movement to "defund" the police—a movement that has already had deadly consequences not just for Asian Americans, but for Americans of all creeds and colors.

Some activists have tried to downplay the problem, blaming the surge in crimes on former president Donald Trump's year-old labeling of the coronavirus as "the China flu" and use of other derogatory terms. Some have called for offenders to attend "anti-racism classes" instead of going to jail. Asian Americans Advancing Justice CEO John C. Yang told NBC that more cops on the streets could do more harm than good, insisting that "an increased police presence isn't necessarily going to solve the problem."

That's exactly wrong. These offenses are precisely the sort of street violence a cop on the beat is best able to deter. Shoving attacks and daylight robberies, which have plagued Asian communities in Oakland and San Francisco, are the sort of public offenses that, decades of research have told us, police are effective at stopping.

anti-Asian hate crime protest
People protest hate crimes committed against Asian
-American and Pacific Islander communities ahead of a car caravan in Koreatown on March 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Asian communities in the U.S. have been shaken by recent racist attacks and a series of shootings at spas in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. Mario Tama/Getty Images

It's therefore little surprise that a crime wave is hitting Asian communities, as city officials slash police budgets and stand down units. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio disbanded a key plainclothes unit and slashed the NYPD's budget by nearly half a billion dollars. In Oakland, where Asian residents are afraid to go outside, the city is working to cut its police budget in half over the next two years. Mass officer resignations last year, driven by public officials' open hostility to cops, can't have helped matters.

These decisions haven't just endangered Asian citizens. Last year saw huge surges in domestic violence, car theft, shootings, assaults and likely the largest homicide spike on record. These killings disproportionately victimize black Americans—the very people that defunding advocates claim to be helping. The violence shows every sign of persisting into 2021; in fact, the terror now sweeping Asian communities is likely part of this larger crime wave.

Such statistics reveal the absurdity of proposals to replace the police with "violence interrupters" and social workers. Yang put it best: "This is not an issue that you can have volunteers addressing. If crime against a community goes up 900 percent, you don't say, 'Oh we'll let volunteers take care of that'—you dedicate resources until that problem feels like it is going down and not up."

Yang is known for far-out ideas, and some of his public safety proposals—like appointing an NYPD commissioner without a law-enforcement background—miss the mark. But when it comes to attacks against Asian New Yorkers, he's absolutely right.

Bigotry, including against Asian Americans, is a real and pressing problem, and leaders should forcefully condemn it. But changing minds takes time, and "anti-racism classes" for offenders are no solution for elderly citizens afraid to leave their homes. What works is putting cops on the street to keep the peace. Yang seems to get that; hopefully other city leaders will follow his example.

Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, working primarily on the Policing and Public Safety Initiative, and a contributing editor of City Journal.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.