Mayors, local leaders and Biden administration officials urged localities to address the increase of anti-Asian discrimination and violence in cities during a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) meeting.
The calls follow last month's attack in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian women. More than 4,500 anti-Asian attacks have been reported since February 2020, according to the groups Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) and Stop AAPI Hate.
The leaders condemned the attacks during last week's meeting and discussed how local and federal actions can combat the racism Asian Americans are experiencing.
"We need to continue to speak out about these issues and to make sure that people understand that this is real," AAAJ Executive Director John C. Yang said during the meeting. "Certainly if you talk to your Asian American constituents, this is not just in the back of their mind, it's in the front of their minds. And you should not be fearful of raising the topic because this topic is on their minds."
Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 150% across 16 major cities in 2020, while hate crimes overall decreased 7%, according to a recent analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
To mitigate the violence at the federal level, President Joe Biden signed a memorandum during his first week in office condemning racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
The Biden administration also recently took new actions to address anti-Asian violence. Those efforts include reinstating the White House’s Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with an initial focus on anti-Asian violence and bias; allocating $49.5 million from the American Rescue Plan for AAPI survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence; creating a COVID-19 equity task force to address xenophobia against Asian Americans; and establishing a Department of Justice cross-agency initiative to focus on anti-Asian violence.
As mayors look for immediate ways to address the violence on the local level, Yang advised leadership to continue meeting with Asian American constituents and speaking out about the violence during press conferences.
"They need to be seen right now," he said. "There's this feeling of suffering, and part of it is for them to have that ability to just recognize that people in positions of power are seeing them."
On a "tactical level," Yang advised creating a local task force to address the violence but cautioned against solely focusing on law enforcement to mitigate the discrimination. Cities should also address areas like mental health and education, he said, and incorporate bystander intervention training programs.
Fremont, CA, Mayor Lily Mei said she’s also heard conversations among residents and leaders questioning the sufficiency of recent proclamations against racism. Over 190 local governments have made such proclamations as they've declared racism a public health crisis following national demonstrations against police violence and racial disparities in COVID-19 health outcomes.
Mei said her own city has worked to share relevant information with city residents by working with the police department to create a "What is a hate crime" brochure and implementing public service announcements. The district attorney’s office has also created a special task force to address hate crimes against Asians, she said.
Local leaders should also work closely with community-based organizations, according to Mei, whether that's elected organizations like Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs, local groups like Fremont's Citizens for Better Community or area community members.
"This is not... one conversation and we’re done, this has to be an ongoing effort," she said. "Because people in our communities — mayors, community members, businesses and all — need to feel safe and need to feel welcome. And that’s something that I would pledge that we all need to do every day."