Excerpted From: Stewart Chang, Stopping Anti-Asian Hate: Local Solutions to a National Problem, 22 Nevada Law Journal 933 (Spring, 2022) (137 Footnotes) (Full Document)


StewartChangThe Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a worldwide public health crisis and economic crisis. In December 2019, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China. The disease developed into a worldwide pandemic over the next month, causing the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency for only the sixth time in history. Three days later, President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency in the United States. In March 2020, President Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency, and soon thereafter individual states began imposing stay-at-home orders. Throughout the pandemic, President Trump repeatedly employed racially hostile language when referring to COVID-19, calling it the “Wuhan virus,” the “Chinese virus,” the “China plague,” and the “kung flu.” In fact, the president went out of his way to attach ethnicity to COVID-19. For example, he purposefully edited his speech to avoid the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guideline to refer to the disease in neutral terms, and instead referred to it specifically as Chinese. Though it is unclear whether there is a direct correlation, the president's inflammatory discourse coincided with a rise in racially motivated violence against Asian and Pacific Islander (API) groups in the United States. Congresswoman Judy Chu, however, directly blamed the president's purposeful scapegoating of API populations for the spike, saying

The CDC and the World Health Organization said that we should all use the official term, COVID-19, in order to make sure that this disease is not associated with a particular geographical location or ethnicity due to the stigma it causes. And President Trump refused to acknowledge that.

Instead he used these terms--China virus, Wuhan virus, and even Kung Flu--and as a result the anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents increased exponentially.

As hates crimes against API individuals rose across the country over the next year, they were generally treated as a footnote of local news until the issue suddenly gained national attention with a mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. On March 16, 2021, gunman Robert Aaron Long targeted three Asian massage parlors in Atlanta and murdered eight women, six of whom were of Asian descent. Following his arrest, he claimed that the shootings were not racially motivated, but took place because he blamed the massage parlors for his sex addiction. The Atlanta shootings brought anti-Asian hate to the foreground of national conversation and brought about passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (COVID-19 Act), as well as a slew of responsive legislation at the state level. This Essay will consider the history of anti-Asian hate in the United States, will examine the ways in which the COVID-19 Act seeks to address this history, and will look to remaining barriers that need to be overcome at the local level in order to effect the change envisioned by the COVID-19 Act.

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Though anti-API violence has spurred a move to some reform, deeper underlying structural problems must first be eliminated and much of this work must be accomplished at the state and local levels. First and foremost, there needs to be a shift away from policies based on the same xenophobia, racism, and nationalism that led to discriminatory laws targeting API groups that lasted nearly a century. As a result of this history, API groups are hesitant to trust the American justice system and law enforcement for their protection. State and local governments can stand against the nationalistic rhetoric that infected national politics for the last four years by instituting sanctuary policies to protect not only API immigrants, but immigrants from all ethnic groups. Furthermore, if more resources are to be devoted to law enforcement, it should be dedicated not to increasing surveillance and prosecution of crimes, but rather to better meeting the needs of potentially vulnerable victims, such as programs geared at improving language access. Most importantly, in order to combat anti-API hate, all levels of government need to commit fundamentally to the elimination of white supremacy, which is ultimately the root cause of anti-API hate crimes.


Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law.