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CLARENCE PAGE: Old tropes of Black-Asian conflict rear up after NY assault

CLARENCE PAGE: Old tropes of Black-Asian conflict rear up after NY assault

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When the network TV news anchor warned that the next news report contained images that some viewers might find too disturbing to watch, I perked up and watched quite intensely.

When the anchor went on to say the story was about the brutal, unprovoked and uninterrupted beating of an Asian American woman near Times Square in New York in broad daylight, an old all-too-familiar thought popped into my mind: Please don’t let the perpetrator be Black.

Alas, he was. And the beating was very disturbing. The perp, later identified as 38-year-old parolee Brandon Elliot, can be seen on the security camera video kicking 65-year-old Vilma Kari in the stomach and stomping repeatedly on her head.

Adding to the horror, three men can be seen watching from the lobby of a nearby apartment building where the camera was placed. None appeared to intervene. When the woman struggled to stand up, one of the men, a security guard, closed the front door to the building.

Fortunately, the workers came to her aid after the assailant fled, and he was arrested two days later on assault and hate crime charges. Kari’s daughter Elizabeth Kari, on the fundraising site GoFundMe, also on Thursday thanked a bystander who she said screamed from across the street to distract the attacker. Good. Perhaps there’s still some hope for humanity.

But sadly, this was one of two attacks caught on video and broadcast on local news and YouTube by a Black man against an Asian in New York in the same week. In the earlier case, another 65-year-old Asian American woman was threatened and heckled with anti-Asian slurs. Both add to the grim statistics of a reported nationwide surge in verbal or physical attacks that have occurred in Asian American communities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Anti-Asian hate crime reports surged in the U.S. by 149% last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University’s San Bernardino campus, despite a 7% drop overall in 2020 hate crime reports.

Although most of the reported attacks have occurred in New York and West Coast cities with high Asian American populations, hundreds gathered in Chicago’s Chinatown on March 27 to raise awareness and call for action in response to a rise in complaints in recent months, including three deaths of Asian Americans that have been investigated as possible hate crimes.

As a Black Chicagoan, I was pleased to see such African American leaders as Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in attendance, as well as a variety of lawmakers from the state’s congressional delegation and statehouse. The rise of insecurity in any community affects all of us, as my fellow African Americans know too well.

But as awareness of anti-Asian sentiments rises, so understandably has some anti-Black sentiment and a resurrection of old tropes of Black-Asian conflict, prominent during the Los Angeles riots of 1992, contrasting gloomily with the long history of cooperation between the two racial communities.

Among those complaining about the widespread lack of candid talk about Black-Asian friction is the reliably provocative author and commentator Heather Mac Donald, a bestselling crime specialist at the conservative Manhattan Institute.

In her latest provocation, “Race and False Hate Narratives,” posted on Quillette, she argues that the media and “Democratic establishment” have slanted the national discussion to blame anti-Asian violence on white supremacy and brand “white Americans as the biggest threat facing the U.S.”

She cites New York Police Department data to write, “a black New Yorker is over six times as likely to commit a hate crime against an Asian as a white New Yorker.”

“In 2020,” she writes, “blacks made up 50 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in New York City, even though blacks are 24 percent of the city’s population. Whites made up 10 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in 2020 in New York City but account for 32 percent of the city’s population.”

So she doesn’t argue that Asians don’t have good reasons to worry about their families and communities. She only wants to make sure the left or “woke” don’t get to shift all of the blame to systemic white racism. Fair enough. Crime is a complex issue, regardless of the community.

But that doesn’t mean everyone should content themselves with dismissing the problem as simply business as usual. Crime and violence already plague too many Black communities. No one should be content with its boiling over to victimize other communities.

Fortunately, while some people point fingers of blame, others are reaching out. Some are working, for example, with alliances such as StopAAPIHate.org to learn “bystander intervention training” so that when they see someone getting attacked or harassed, they’ll have an idea of what to do, besides complain.

It’s not a miracle cure, but it’s a start.

Email Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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