The Chinese-American stepping up to take on hate crimes

Holly Chik
·4-min read

New Yorker Fred Teng has a simple message.

With thousands of hate crimes against Asian-Americans reported amid the coronavirus pandemic, the president of the not-for-profit America China Public Affairs Institute wants to make one thing clear.

“We just want to be equal. We don’t want to be more, we don’t want to be less. And this country belongs to us, as well as anyone else,” Teng said.

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As part of that mission, Teng has joined the newly created Hate Crime Review Panel, a partnership with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) that will help police determine which cases should be investigated as hate crimes.

Fred Teng, President of America China Public Affairs Institute, is seen in 2019. Photo: Nora Tam
Fred Teng, President of America China Public Affairs Institute, is seen in 2019. Photo: Nora Tam

Teng is one of five community leaders from the city’s Asian, Black, Jewish, LGBTQ and Muslim communities who will help the force establish if a victim’s actual or perceived race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation were motivating factors in possible hate crime.

NYPD chief of department Rodney Harrison said the panel would offer insight into cases that presented significant challenges in proving an assailant’s intent was hate.

“They may help us see things we may not have seen. And ultimately ensure justice for victims, which is what we all want,” Harrison said.

The new panel builds on the work of the NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force created in August to deal with a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The team’s 25 Asian-American police officers can communicate with victims without the help of translators, according to the NYPD.

For Shanghai-born Teng, who moved to Hong Kong at age five and the United States at 15, direct input is essential.

“We are from the community. We know the culture, histories and language and nuances of our community so we could add value,” he said.

Teng’s appointment comes as advocacy groups say there have been thousands of reports of racism targeting Asian Americans.

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of such groups, said it received nearly 3,800 reports of racism targeting Asian Americans between March 2020 and February this year. AAPI stands for “Asian-American and Pacific Islander”.

Thousands of cases of anti-Asian hate have been reported in the US since the pandemic, according to advocacy groups. Photo: AP
Thousands of cases of anti-Asian hate have been reported in the US since the pandemic, according to advocacy groups. Photo: AP

Around 11 per cent of those reported incidents involved physical assault and more than 40 per cent of the cases were reported by Chinese, according to the nationwide data.

Last month the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism said hate crimes against Asian-Americans rose by 149 per cent in 2020 in 16 major cities compared with 2019.

At the time, then-US president Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus” and “kung flu”.

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Teng said much of this violence was targeted at the Chinese community and associated with a decline in relations at the top.

“While this is called anti-Asian crime, I think this wave is really against the Chinese,” he said.

“The pandemic led to economic downturns and frustration, but also because of government officials’ speech.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a hate crime is a criminal offence motivated by biases against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

But the cases could be more difficult to prosecute than regular criminal charges, prompting some prosecutors in the past to avoid the cases, Teng said.

He said he hoped the panel could help change that by working within the system.

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“[It’s] not that we have the ultimate power to control whether the district attorney can prosecute or not. But if they don’t [after] the NYPD determined it is a hate crime … as a panel and an independent civilian board, we will issue a letter to the district attorney,” Teng said.

“If it’s reviewed by the police and us, we hope that the district attorney will take it on, rather than taking an easy route out of lesser charges so that they can win.

“You can have lots of people demonstrating and a lot of my friends go out. It’s great what they are doing, but it does not have as much of an impact directly. For us [the new panel] is a starting point.”

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