Calling the Georgia Shooting a 'Hate Crime' Won't Protect Asian Women | Opinion

In the week since a mass shooter murdered eight people in Georgia targeting Asian women, most major cities across the country doubled down on increasing policing and patrols in Asian American communities, deploying more officers to predominantly Asian neighborhoods. These police responses have been coupled with proposals from politicians, advocates, activists and members of my Asian American community alike to further increase funding and city resources allocated to police departments' hate crime task forces and counterterrorism bureaus. Many are calling for the shooter to be labeled a domestic terrorist.

This is a mistake, not because it is unclear whether these murders were motivated by hatred—they were—but because the proposed expansion of policing and domestic counterterrorism legislation, funding and programming focused on curbing hate violence would have done nothing to prevent this violence. Instead, the proposed policies will certainly hurt the same Asian communities we aim to protect.

Asian Americans are no strangers to racially motivated murder. From the Chinese Massacre of 1871 to the practice of white Americans hunting Japanese Americans for sport in the 1940s to the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s, violence against Asian Americans is quintessentially American. After 9/11, I saw members of my South Asian American community gunned down, in restaurant parking lots to places of worship by white supremacists.

Arguments for attaching labels of hate violence and terrorism to crimes like this can feel like a step toward equity after decades of seeing such labels only applied to Black and brown Americans. But when increased power, funding and jurisdiction is given to policing and criminalization, we do not get to decide whether it will be used to protect Asian Americans or put us in harm's way.

Instead, the history of domestic policing and antiterrorism apparatuses in the United States shows us that these systems have only ever been used to target communities of color, including Asian Americans—from programs like Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) that ripped apart South Asian American communities in the last two decades to the designation of Black Lives Matter protesters as "Identity extremists." This isn't because rooting out white supremacist violence is inherently more difficult than uncovering attempted acts of terrorism in minority communities. Reports have shown that law enforcement entities like the FBI are well aware of white supremacist violence infiltrating institutions like police departments, but choose not to act.

The case of Yang Song, a Chinese American woman who fell to her death during a police raid on massage workers in New York four years ago, and her accounts of being sexually assaulted by a man claiming to be an undercover police officer, is just one example of how police presence make Asian Americans less safe, not more. Just a few years prior, New York police brutalized an Asian American man for jaywalking. In December 2020, a California police officer knelt on the neck of an Asian American man experiencing a mental health crisis for five minutes, according to witnesses. He died in the hospital three days later. His name was Angelo Quinto.

In the last week, the police officers tasked with investigating the Georgia shootings were pictured wearing vests proclaiming COVID-19 to be a virus imported from China and justified the white supremacist shooter's actions by saying he was, "having a really bad day." Instead of comforting the husband of Delania Yaun, one of the shooting victims in Georgia, police arrested him and held him in handcuffs for hours, refusing to let him see his wife's body.

Stop Asian hate
A couple wearing protective masks walk past a "Stop Asian Hate" sign in Nolita on March 21, 2021, in New York City. John Lamparski/Getty Images

Massage workers, particularly Asian Americans, are uniquely impacted by policing and criminalization. In Los Angeles, police described crimes where they believed the victim to be a sex worker, like those in massage establishments, as having "no human involved." In New York, criminal penalties for unlicensed massage work, an industry that is predominantly Asian, far outstrip those for criminalized actions that are not similarly racialized. How can we trust these same people to protect us?

Calling something an act of domestic terrorism or a hate crime is not a preventative measure to combat further acts of violence. It is at best a prosecutorial strategy for conviction, and at worst, a strategic choice to redirect resources in a crisis aftermath to law enforcement as a part of a domestic war on terror and historical criminalization of non-white Americans that has caused irreparable harm to communities of color, including Asian Americans. And while the harsher prosecution that comes from labeling these shootings as hate crimes will not deter anyone from committing them, nor is the label necessary to prosecute white supremacists, it obscures the impact of the state in driving hate crime.

The reality is that both foreign and domestic policy targeting Asians and Asian Americans, rather than the nebulous and individualized concept of "hate," is central in creating the preconditions for violence against Asian Americans to thrive.

When we ask ourselves, "where was the shooter radicalized?" the answer is in the same country that leveled Korean cities with Napalm for decades, abetted in the massacre of nearly half a million Indonesians and illegally occupied the Philippines. The same country whose soldiers systemically raped local women in the East Asian countries they attacked.

How can policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Page Act of 1875, the internment of Japanese citizens, atomic bombing of Japanese cities and ban on Indian Americans obtaining citizenship through decisions like United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind not shape and drive the perception of Asians in America as less than human?

Though these policies might feel like ancient history, recently the Biden administration deported nearly three dozen Vietnamese Americans, many of whom work in the same types of spas and salons that the Korean Americans murdered in Georgia worked in. Ironically, it is American wars and violence that created the conditions in Asia that drove most Asian immigrants to the United States.

Since its inception, the designation of "hate crime" has been embraced by law enforcement organizations ranging from local police to the FBI for its redirection of focus and funding from addressing the root causes of crime to prosecuting individual acts. But ending all violence against Asian Americans requires transparently confronting the real root of violence against Asian Americans—in which both the American government as well as the American police and military have played a substantial role—and dismantling these systems, not hiding them under a reinforced criminalization infrastructure that will hurt us more.

Kiran Misra is a journalist covering the intersection of people and policy in places including Washington, D.C., Chicago and Iowa.

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