Corinna Shen, an Asian American and Pacific Islander community leader in Rockville, Maryland, is unsure exactly how many times her home has been vandalized since it was first targeted in 2016.
Last September, she discovered footprints on her front door after a series of bangs shook the house while she and her family were eating dinner.
Similar incidents at Shen’s home, which she believes are hate crimes because other homes in her neighborhood weren’t targeted, occurred twice the following month.
Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Maryland have more than doubled since 2018, according to an April 9 press release from the governor’s office.
To better address this surge, lawmakers, state leaders and victims of anti-Asian hate say that Maryland’s government and law enforcement agencies must improve their reporting of and response to hate crimes.
Lawmakers say Maryland’s statute – which defines a hate crime as an illegal act “motivated either in whole or in substantial part by” prejudice – is strong, but victims and their communities must feel safe reporting incidents for the statute to be effective in addressing hate crimes.
Lawmakers updated Maryland’s statute last year after a white man murdered Black Army lieutenant Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland, College Park campus in 2017.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed legislation aimed at combating hate crimes, particularly against Asian Americans, which also saw an uptick nationally during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nowadays, Shen generally tries to avoid public places, and she no longer goes on walks after sunset.
Reporting hate crimes
Law enforcement should build trust with those they serve to increase the willingness among victims and their communities to report hate crimes, said Arusha Gordon, associate director of the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate, a project of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Trust may erode if victims and their communities feel that law enforcement won’t properly address reported incidents, including hate crimes and hate bias incidents – which don’t warrant criminal charges.
Maryland police reported that, between 2017 and 2019, they were able to verify a lower percentage of race-, ethnicity- and ancestry-motivated hate bias incidents each year, even though the volume of such crimes increased over that span.
The report defined a verified incident as one in which police confirmed a victim’s claim that bias contributed in whole, or in part, to the perpetrator’s actions.
In 2017, Maryland police reported verifying 45% of race-, ethnicity- and ancestry-motivated hate bias incidents that victims reported.
In 2018, police verified 24%; in 2019, that figure was 22%.
None of the 11 anti-Asian hate bias incidents in 2019 were verified.
Of the nine anti-white hate bias incidents that year, five were verified.
“More people reported what they felt were incidents related to hate/bias,” a Maryland State Police Department spokesperson said to Capital News Service in an email. “Police looked into those complaints, but the evidence was not there to ‘verify’ the incident as an actual hate/bias incident.”
It is difficult to prove that a perpetrator acted with bias, for example, if police aren’t able to locate and question that perpetrator, Marc Limansky, public information officer for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said.
Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, said that, while Shen, the community leader in Rockville, was courageous in reporting the recent attacks on her house to police, other victims of hate crimes or hate bias incidents may be hesitant to report such incidents.
First generation immigrants who fled oppressive regimes may be skeptical of police, and other victims may be afraid to report their incident for fear of retaliation, said Lee, who is chair emeritus and founder of the Maryland Legislature’s Asian American and Pacific Islander caucus.
Fear of retaliation is especially prevalent during the pandemic, which has reignited an anti-Asian flame that some leaders have fanned.
Robert Redfield, adviser to Hogan and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a March interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that he believes the virus originated in a Wuhan lab – a theory that the World Health Organization previously investigated and determined to be “extremely unlikely.”
Redfield’s comments drew swift condemnation from state officials, including Lee.
“Words matter and are dangerous when they manifest themselves or provoke violent action against an entire ethnic group,” Lee said in a press release denouncing Redfield’s comments. “Asian Americans and people from communities of color and all backgrounds all too well understand this – and have lived this.”
The granddaughter of a Chinese immigrant, Lee still remembers the names of those who bullied her in middle and high school.
She said that she was the daily target of racist remarks and other attacks, which she was too ashamed to tell her parents about at the time.
Perhaps no figure validated anti-Asian hate moreso than former President Donald Trump, Lee said.
With his racist references to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” and “China virus,” Trump emboldened people to express their prejudice, and he put a target on the backs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Lee said.
Numerous attacks on Asian Americans that have made national headlines – among them the rampage at three Atlanta-area spas in which a man killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent – have caused Lee to be more vigilant when in public.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be the next victim of a dangerous, vicious attack,” Lee said.
She has also urged her mother to be careful when in public – even in her own neighborhood.
When hate crime perpetrators target someone, they are sending a message to the entire demographic that the victim represents, and Gordon – from the Lawyers’ Committee – said that law enforcement must offset this message.
The Maryland police and correctional training commissions, which the state Legislature established in 2016 to govern police certification and training, mandates that entry-level and in-service training among state, county and municipal law enforcement provide “special training, attention to and study of” hate crimes laws, including responding to and reporting incidents.
The commission, however, leaves to each department the specifics of this training and doesn’t oversee how individual departments respond to reported hate crimes, Executive Director Albert Liebno said.
In coordination with community leaders and organizations, law enforcement bodies should periodically evaluate the effectiveness of hate crime response training, according to recommendations that the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Lawyers’ Committee published in 2019.
Gov. Larry Hogan, R, whose wife, Yumi, was born in Korea, announced on April 9 the formation of a statewide workgroup that will create recommendations for improving the state’s response.
Robert Hur, the state’s former top federal prosecutor and a Korean American, will head the workgroup, and Hogan plans to announce the other members in May.
Jimmy Rhee, special secretary of the governor’s office of small, minority and women business affairs and a member of Hogan’s workgroup, has seen anti-Asian hate transcend generations.
Last February, a driver threw trash at his daughter while she was walking her dog near her home in Portland, Oregon.
As the son of the late Jhoon Rhee – the legendary taekwondo master who voluntarily taught his craft to hundreds of U.S. senators and representatives – Jimmy Rhee recalled joining his father for training sessions as a teenager, even instructing President Joe Biden when Biden was a junior senator.
Jhoon Rhee’s status didn’t shield Jimmy, who at 13 emigrated with his family from South Korea, from constant racial abuse and harassment growing up.
Rhee said that stereotypes and ignorance – including the notion of Asian Americans as “perpetual foreigners,” regardless of how many generations their families have been in the U.S. – contributes to the systemic inequality and hate that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face.
Rhee said amending the issue will require significant educational investment to address.
More than two-thirds of Asian Americans, and more than half of Pacific Islanders, have been asked where they are from, with the assumption that they aren’t from the U.S., according to a survey published by AAPI Data’s Karthick Ramakrishnan and Janelle Wong, who is also a professor of Asian American studies and political science at the University of Maryland, College Park.