Op-Ed: A Local Candidate Reacts to Wave of Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

Jeffrey Omura.

By Jeffrey Omura

Tuesday night was terrifying. A gunman targeted three Asian spas in Atlanta just hours after I heard about two separate anti-Asian hate crimes here in New York City—one in Kips Bay and another in Hell’s Kitchen. Victims in both local incidents were told to “Go back to China”.

We have to be absolutely clear about where this wave of anti-Asian violence is coming from. Last spring, President Trump started using the phrases “Kung Flu” and “Chinese Virus” at every press conference and at rallies across the country. We haven’t seen that kind of anti-Asian rhetoric in this country in a long time. Words matter. Sure enough we started seeing anti-Asian hate crimes spread throughout the US, including right here in New York.

This kind of rhetoric serves to otherize Asian Americans, to make us intrinsically different and alien. It’s a lot easier to hurt someone when you don’t consider them one of your own. This has got to stop. And everyone responsible has to own up to it.

Make no mistake, there are no easy solutions to ridding our country or city of hate and acts of violence. And we certainly can’t police our way out of these problems. What we can do is treat our neighbors better. We can change attitudes. We can provide opportunities. We can improve public safety by building relationships between the police and the community, by restoring trust, and by implementing policy that creates accountability and oversight. And we can expand access to badly needed mental health and social services.

We’ll have to have some tough and honest conversations about how we got here. Anti-Asian violence and hate didn’t begin with COVID-19. Trump unleashed what was already here. It’s been with us for as long as Asians have lived in this country. From the LA Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Rock Springs massacre of 1885, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Wars in Korea and Vietnam, to the destruction of LA’s Koreatown, Asian Americans have been made to feel that we’re not fully welcome in the United States. That no matter how many generations we’ve lived here, we will never be accepted as American. It’s why I’ve been asked my entire life and throughout my professional career: but where are you really from?

Here in New York City, the work we have to do is clear. Asian Americans, just like other communities of color, have experienced disproportionately higher rates of transmission and death during the pandemic. And the economic shutdown hit many of New York’s Asian businesses two months before it hit the rest of the city because xenophobia arrived before the virus did.

Frontline food delivery workers who have kept us fed at home, working without fair wages or basic employment protections, are disproportionately Asian American.

1 in 4 Asian New Yorkers lives in poverty.

We make up 15% of the City’s population but receive only 1.4% of the City’s social services contracts.

The City Council sets the budget priorities. The Council’s two Asian American members are both term-limited. Representation matters. We need seats at the table advocating for the needs of New York’s Asian American communities and leading tough conversations about how we’re going to put this genie of hate and violence back into the bottle. This year, we have great Asian American candidates running for office throughout the City. It’s time to pay attention to them.

We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.

Jeffrey Omura is a candidate for the District 6 City Council seat, representing most of the Upper West Side.

COLUMNS | 8 comments | permalink
    1. biffmeister says:

      NYC is one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Over the last 30-40 years, we have seen the Asian community grow from about 5% of the population, to, as you pointed out, 15%. If NYC and the US is such a horrible, racist society, why do Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians and other Asians continue to flock here in record numbers? Because we are the greatest country on earth with endless opportunities for everyone. But diversity brings confrontation, often racial in nature. It has nothing to do with Trump. It has always existed and always will, because it’s part of human nature. The gunman in Atlanta is a cockroach and should fry. But 2 of the 8 people he murdered were white, and one was a man. Their deaths are no less disgusting than the 6 Asian women. My husband is Taiwanese and 20 years ago he was by himself and getting in a cab and was told by a drunk to go back to China. These incidents are unfortunate, but will never completely go away. But we must come together to reduce ALL crime, as the streets of NYC are no longer safe, due to the horrendous DeBlasio regime. I’m not going to vote for you or anyone else BECAUSE of your race or ethnicity or sex. I’m going to vote for the candidate whose number one priority is to make the NYC streets safe again for law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

    2. JennUWS says:

      This is wonderfully written. Thanks for being a bright spot in a dark week

    3. This is a metastasizing remnant of the last POTUS. While I’ve done no due diligence on your candidacy as of yet, I’m strongly leaning towards voting for you.

      Of course, I’ll have to find out more about your actual positions on various issues facing the UWS. Thank you for introducing yourself.

      • Mattyp123 says:

        Jeffrey is an amazing candidate for the UWS! He’s all about finding common ground and practical solutions to the pressing needs of our community, while being approachable and a fresh new voice. You can read his positions here!

    4. Anita says:

      A very important piece. Thank you for telling it like it is.

    5. Debbie Jones says:

      We’re finished with tribes. These folk are Americans. U.S. citizens. We’re Americans. Object if you see harassments. Help them.
      This is all our land. Debbie Jones Upper West Side

    6. mcb says:

      Agreed! Did read his positions and he for sure has my vote! A good person and clear thinker! Not a lot of mush and foolish promises. Read for yourselves! Thanks

      • biffmeistert says:

        Check out Zack Weiner. He’s only 26 but has a good head on his shoulders. He’s not a far-left loon and has practical, sensible positions on the most critical issues facing the UPW: reducing crime, homelessness and empty storefronts.