UNPROVOKED ATTACKS. Eddie Song, a Korean-American
entrepreneur, prepares to ride his motorcycle wearing a jacket
over extra body padding while equipped with video cameras, in
the East Village neighborhood of New York. After being blamed
for causing the coronavirus outbreak in a recent assault, Song
routinely wears the extra gear for safety. (AP Photo/Bebeto
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #06 (May 4, 2020), page
From guns to GoPros, Asian Americans seek to
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
When Eddie Song leaves his Manhattan home, it can feel like
heading into battle. The Korean-American startup founder and
avid rider dons his armored motorcycle jacket, motorcycle
gloves, a skull face mask, and a GoPro camera.
"The GoPro is on all the time whenever I leave the house now.
Basically it’s a rolling camera," Song said. "With the
combination of looking intimidating and having the camera — if
they pick a fight with me, they know I’m prepared."
As the coronavirus first seen in China now ravages the U.S.,
Asian Americans are continuing to wrestle with a second
epidemic: hate. Hundreds of attacks on Asian people have been
reported, with few signs of decline. Rather than feel helpless,
many are filming their interactions or carrying guns.
Others are training in deflection instead. Many Asian
Americans say they want to safely confront racist bullying and
harassment, and grassroots groups are sharing — virtually, of
course — ways to defuse abuse.
Song, 41, made the camera a fixture after a middle-aged
Latino man shoved him and demanded his shopping cart outside an
Upper East Side Costco in February "because your people are the
reason coronavirus is happening." His Thai-American wife, a
nurse, goes out in scrubs in hopes of better treatment but also
carries pepper spray.
Becky Gerhardus, a Cambodian American in Portland, Oregon,
bought a handgun two months ago after reading about anti-Asian
attacks, including a stabbing that wounded a Texas man and his
two children. An Asian woman in her 20s, Gerhardus feared being
stereotyped as an easy target.
"In these crazy times, I might be the only person that can
keep myself safe in a bad situation," said Gerhardus, who often
went shooting at a range before buying a weapon herself.
Using the gun would absolutely be "the last resort," she
Background checks required to buy firearms hit an all-time
high in March, according to FBI data. The agency doesn’t track
background checks by race, but several media outlets have
reported Asian Americans making up a large portion of those in
long lines at gun shops in the last two months.
The demand surprised Alvin Lin, a Taiwanese American who
shoots competitively and is a licensed instructor in Louisville,
Kentucky. All of his Asian friends have asked him about owning a
firearm or weapons training.
People who are serious about getting a gun should be
committed to learning how to use it, said Lin, 31, who also owns
a restaurant group.
"It would be incredibly irresponsible to let a 16-year-old
just buy a car and let them drive without any sort of training
and any understanding of how a car works," he said. "Same thing
with a firearm."
Lin said many of his friends partially blame President Donald
Trump using the phrase "Chinese virus" for giving the "go ahead"
The onslaught of anti-Asian attacks has evoked parallels to
how Muslim Americans were treated after 9/11. However, the
president’s response made a difference. Six days after the 2001
terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush spoke of unity at a
mosque in Washington, D.C. and hate crime reports noticeably
went down, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for
the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University,
"He made a point of not criminalizing Muslims and their
religion and their community — and really making a distinction
between those committing violent acts and just people of faith
who were wholly American," said Rachel Gillum, author of
Muslims in a Post-9/11 America: A Survey of Attitudes and
Beliefs and Their Implications for U.S. National Security Policy.
During the pandemic, an online hate reporting center has
received nearly 1,500 reports of racist abuse against Asians
nationwide since it launched March 19. Stay-at-home orders mean
in-person run-ins are down somewhat but vandalism of Asian-owned
homes and businesses is up, according to the advocacy groups
running the portal.
It’s difficult to predict whether incidents will dramatically
drop once society goes back to "normal," Levin said, because the
pandemic is unprecedented.
"Generally when there’s a catalytic event, hate crimes tend
to decline and have a bit of a half-life," he said. "But that
presupposes a singular catalytic event as opposed to a rolling
Levin, a former NYPD officer, cautioned to only stop an
attack if it can be safely done.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice is promoting just that with
bystander training. The civil-rights organization teamed with
anti-harassment group hollaback! to hold videoconferencing
sessions this month. They were overwhelmed when more than 1,000
people registered for the first training, said Marita Etcubañez,
one of the coordinators.
"As hurtful and harmful as hate attacks can be, often the
person is further traumatized when they feel like people who
were around could have helped but did not," Etcubañez said.
Most people say they don’t step in because they don’t know
what to do or are afraid of making things worse, organizers
found. Bystanders can try diverting attention from the person
being harassed, get help, or confront the perpetrator — but only
if there’s no danger.
That support has turned to action in San Francisco, where
volunteers patrol Chinatown. In New York City, a Facebook group
pairs people with Asian Americans who are afraid to venture out
Song, who gears up when he goes out in New York, wants to use
his GoPro to document harassment against others. In a Facebook
video posted in April, he criticized a white woman for calling
another Asian man "corona." It received thousands of views.
He’s optimistic he won’t have to be as vigilant once some
"My theory is that these are purely opportunistic people
where they feel they have a higher probability of getting away
with it," Song said. "With more people around ... they’re more
likely to be called out on being a jerk."
Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of
The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team.