‘Racism is the virus’

Hundreds stand in solidarity at the Stop Asian Hate rally in Jersey City

“Stop Asian Violence! We are not a Virus!” shouted hundreds of people outside Jersey City Hall at the #StopAsianHateJC rally.

Community members gathered in solidarity to call for an end to the rise of violence against the Asian American community that has shaken the nation in recent weeks.

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Since last March, the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate has received 3,795 complaints of hate incidents targeting Asian Americans nationwide. Eleven percent involved physical assaults, and 68 percent were verbal harassment.

Asian Americans reported being targeted at least 503 times in January and February of this year alone.

In New Jersey, Stop AAPI Hate reported nearly 50 incidents of Asian American and Pacific Islander discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic between March and December of last year.

‘Hate has no home here’

Officials and community activists and organizers from across the state spoke passionately about the need to end hate, white supremacy, and racism.

“Jersey City is one of the most diverse cities in the entire nation, so we are all here today to denounce bigotry, xenophobia and hatred and declare that in America, hate has no home here, and in Jersey City hate definitely does not have a home here!” said Jersey City Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro.

Asians comprise roughly 25 percent of Jersey City’s population, according to the 2019 American Community Survey.

Lavarro sponsored a resolution with Ward E Councilman James Solomon denouncing AAPI hate and violence, adopted by the council last month.

Vernon Richardson, aid to Mayor Steven Fulop and former chief of staff of Councilman Michael Yun who died due to COVID-19 complications last year, said Yun predicted the rise in violence, recalling a conversation he and the councilman had after meeting with area hospitals to prepare for COVID-19.

“He turned to me and said ‘New Jersey doesn’t know what’s about to hit it’ and he said ‘ you can anticipate a rise in anti-Asian violence coming up,’” said Richardson, noting that less than a week later a story about an Asian man chased out of a restaurant in Bergen County for fear he might have the virus was in the news.

Interrupting Richardson, a woman in the crowd asked where the mayor was to which he replied he had a prior commitment garnering boos from the crowd.

“This is a very important issue! So why isn’t he here? Where is he?” she said. “He’s the mayor of this city, and I’m a native of this city. I am an Asian American woman. Where is my mayor that I actually voted for?”

On Facebook Fulop posted that he had a family event out of state that was planned months ago and thanked organizers for the rally.

“Our city is a microcosm of the entire country with our diversity, and we stand as a strong example of a community that not only accepts our differences but embraces and appreciates our differences to make us a stronger city,” he wrote.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji said the AAPI community has been battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and hate.

“Discrimination has actually been an undeniable and unfortunate part of the Asian immigrant experience for a long time,” said Mukherji. “It wasn’t until 1943 after six decades of formal legally sanctioned Chinese exclusion ended in our country’s immigration policy.”

He noted that right here in Jersey City Dotbuster attacks against South Asians occurred in the late 1980s. The name comes form Hindu women who wear Bindis on their foreheads.

“Then for the last four years we had a commander and chief who fanned the flames of hate when he and others on screen referredto the pandemic repeatedly as the ‘kung flu’ or the ‘China virus,’” he said. “Hate becomes normalized. It comes out of the shadows and what’s been happening happens.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal echoed these statements, noting that the violence comes as no surprise to those who rang the alarm about the hateful rhetoric out of the White House over the past four years.

“I hear you,” said Grewal. “I am here with you. I am in this fight with you because if people are going to be intimidated because of who they are, I am not going to stand for it, and we will use all the tools we have as a law enforcement agency … we are not going to stop until we root out this hateful conduct.”

Andrew Zhang of Solidarity and Mutual Aid Jersey City spoke about the history of racism against Asians in this country.

“We know about Japanese internment. We know about the KKK setting fire to Vietnamese shrimp boats. We know that currently today Filipinos make up four percent of nurses but Filipino nurses make up 30 percent of all nurse deaths due to COVID-19,” he said, citing a report from the National Nurses United union.

He condemned the recent acts of violence against the AAPI community, noting it was rooted in white supremacy.

Other speakers included Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ Amol Sinha, Migrante – NJ, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, Championing Political Change President Jai Jhaveri, OCA- New Jersey Chapter, and Amy Torres of the New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice, among several others.

Seven asks

The rally was organized by the #StopAsianHateJC committee, a grassroots coalition composed of immigrant rights and community activists, organizers, business leaders, civic leaders, and concerned individuals.

They delivered a set of asks to local legislators.

They urged legislators to establish a task force with the community to create an environment of safety composed of community members and grassroots organizations and to conduct conversations with the community to discuss long-term solutions to the issue and unite on solutions through forums, panels, community town halls, and assemblies.

They asked for more funding for community programs led by community members who have relationships with impacted populations and the implementation of a long-term education campaign by integrating Asian American and Pacific Islander history into school curriculum.

They want legislators to ensure the tracking of anti-Asian hate crimes and to develop community-centered, community-crafted, and culturally sensitive protocols addressing anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination.

They asked legislators to conduct cultural sensitivity training for law enforcement; stakeholders and a commitment from the city council to concretely hold bad actors accountable.

So far, 78 people sent letters to local representatives with these seven asks at https://tinyurl.com/tpfrbcr.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.


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