In 2020, the nation’s most vulnerable communities, particularly those of color and immigrants, found themselves targeted in the wake of a global pandemic and a bitterly disputed national election.
President Trump repeatedly blamed Asian-American communities for the pandemic, causing reportedly more than 2,120 anti-Asian American hate incidents across the nation in a three-month time span between March and June of 2020, which included physical attacks, verbal assaults, workplace discrimination, and online harassment.70 The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action documented that about 40% of the reported incidents occurred in California.71
CAIR-CA continued speaking against hate driven by an understanding that no community is safe when others are under attack. In early February 2020, CAIR-SFBA denounced an attack on an elderly Asian-American man in San Francisco who was attacked near a public housing complex with a tool he had been using to collect cans in the neighborhood.72 CAIR-SFBA urged the San Francisco Police Department to investigate this incident as being motivated by racial bias.73 Later during the year, the Asian American community in the Bay Area was shocked by two egregious attacks. The first involved an assailant who yelled at a woman for allegedly not practicing social distancing and asked her, “Why doesn’t she go back to where she came from” and the second involved several Vietnameseowned businesses whose windows were smashed in San Jose.74 75
American Muslims also found themselves targets of violent acts by private actors. CAIR-CA’s offices received over 50 reports of hate incidents in the form of vandalized mosques and community centers, threatening phone calls and letters, profiling in public spaces, and violence against community members. CAIR-CA’s offices worked closely with the complainants to call for proper investigation by law enforcement, and prosecution where necessary. To achieve this, CAIR-CA used media advocacy, reviewed public documents and court records, and followed up with law enforcement to ensure investigations were being seriously handled and that a hate crime enhancement is charged where appropriate.
While CAIR-CA does not advocate generally for punitive remedies such as increased prison time as a response to bias-motivated violence, it has advocated to designate these acts as potential hate crimes to raise awareness of the serious consequences of normalizing white supremacy and bigotry, as well as the need for systemic solutions. In addition to these efforts, CAIR-CA worked for redress for victims and advocated for restorative justice options and broader community education, such as the facilitation of Bystander Intervention Training workshops. The trainings used sample scenarios and de-escalation intervention methods to prepare participants to be active responders when witnessing incidents of harassment and hate.
In one prominent example, an advocate helping resettle refugees in Los Angeles County reached out to CAIR-LA to inform them of a Muslim refugee family who were being harassed by their neighbor at a residential apartment complex. The neighbor often spewed Islamophobic insults and profanities when he encountered the community member and his family leading them to fear for their safety. When the neighbor threatened the family by brandishing a gun in front of them, law enforcement was alerted but no concrete action was taken to protect the family. Our attorneys stepped in to ensure that the matter was promptly addressed by the property management company responsible for the apartment complex. After outlining the violations of various anti-discrimination statutes around housing, CAIR-LA was able to compel management to evict the offending neighbor with cause, thereby allowing the family to find the respite they needed.