Crime & Justice

Asians flocking to New York self-defense courses after racist attacks

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Apr 28 (EFE News).- Attacks on Asians since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic have spurred members of that community in New York City to flock to self-defense workshops where they learn how to protect themselves when faced with racist attacks, a phenomenon that is directed increasingly against the more marginalized and vulnerable groups in society.

“The Asian-American community’s being faulted for the spread of Covid … We’re scapegoated, and so all the physical attacks have been happening, and we’ve seen some really horrific videos,” the executive director of the Asian American Federation, Jo-Ann Yoo, told EFE in an interview.

Yoo blames, in part, former President Donald Trump and his continuous scornful references to Covid, which he calls the “Chinese virus” or the “Kung Flu,” along with the collective frustration brought about by the horrific number of virus deaths and the deep economic crisis.

“People need to find an outlet for their anger and frustration. I think that’s where the Asian American community became targets of a lot of verbal harassment and spitting, and then – as we’ve seen – there’s been so (many) more violent attacks,” she added.

According to the NGO Stop AAPI Hate, between March 2020 and last month a total of 3,795 hate incidents were registered nationwide against the Asian community in the US Sixty-eight percent of those incidents were verbal attacks, 20.5 percent were actions in which a person from that community was deliberately ignored and 11.1 percent of the cases were physical attacks.

Yoo said that in New York, which has the largest Asian community in the US, 1,100 attacks were reported, more than in any other US city, although – according to Stop AAPI Hate – California is the state with the most attacks overall.

She said that it’s well known that the 1,100 reported attacks are at most 10-30 percent of the incidents that are really occurring, and there are many reasons why people don’t report them, including their “uncertain immigration status,” the fact that “shame” is very much a part of the Asian-American culture and also the lack of proficiency in English among many members of that community.

Thus, she said that her organization has launched an awareness campaign in the majority-Asian neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Chinatown, but also in Queens and Brooklyn, where businesses and residents are suffering under this wave of racist violence.

The Stop AAPI Hate report also revealed that Asian women were the targets of 68 percent of the attacks.

On the Web site of the of the association Yoo heads – – the first thing that appears on the main page is a listing of “Safety Resources” to “Stay Safe from Anti-Asian Racism.”

Four documents, prepared in cooperation with the Center for Anti-Violence Education, offer several strategies for how to avoid a racist attack, reduce tensions and defend oneself against physical violence.

The director of the self-defense empowerment program offered by the center, Rej Joo, told EFE how, before the pandemic, just 2-3 percent of the people taking his courses were of Asian origin, while today they comprise 75 percent of the enrollment.

His programs, he said, offer resources to different communities such as LGTBI people, immigrants or female victims of gender violence, among others, who need tools to defend themselves.

In the most recent course offered in April focusing on the East Asian community, 24 percent of the students said that they had been the target of an attack and 33 percent said they had witnessed an incident of racism or violence against an Asian American.

Yoo said that what strikes her as even sadder is that the majority of the attacks are occurring in public places and people are not stepping up to help their New York neighbors who are being targeted.

Rej also emphasized that his courses are not designed only for people who are the actual victims of an attack, but also for people who witness one.

A person who witnesses such an attack can be legitimately afraid to intervene, but they can also help, for example, by “making noise.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean, he said, that you’re saying “Hey, I want to fight with you,” but rather it’s just a warning and people who don’t want problems are going to flee, and so there are many distraction strategies that people can use just to keep the violence from escalating.

The Asian American Federation’s mission is to raise the influence and well-being of the pan-Asian American community through research, policy advocacy, public awareness and organizational development.

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