VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Anti-Asian hate crimes spiked nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last year, nearly 3,800 hate incidents targeted Asian Americans in the United States. 49 of those hate incidents were in Virginia, according to the STOP Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate research.
Dot Kelly, Miss Virginia 2020, is a proud Korean American from Hampton. She uses her platform to talk with students all over the state about diversity.
“I am giving that exposure to seeing difference, acknowledging difference, and loving difference,” Kelly said.
She volunteers at a coronavirus vaccine clinic at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. When the pandemic started last year, some people, including elected officials, blamed the coronavirus on the Asian community. Kelly tells 10 On Your Side she received very hateful messages on social media with a racial slur.
“When that specifically occurred, I was like this is not OK and I need to help people. Give them the awareness that this is not OK,” Kelly said.
She shared the #StopAsianHate hashtag on social media to encourage empathy and education.
Last month in Atlanta, the murder of six Asian women shined a light ongoing Anti-Asian rhetoric and acts.
“Just picturing and hearing my mother through the voices of those who were afraid. It’s very difficult. It’s been very difficult,” Kelly said.
Following the shootings, the Asian American Alliance of Hampton Roads continued to push for changes.
“If it happens somewhere, it can happen anywhere,” said Petula Moy, the founder of the Asian American Alliance of Hampton Roads.
Moy said the Asian community is less likely to report hate crimes because of language barriers or cultural differences. Moy says it’s time to change that.
“We need the Asian American and Pacific Island (AAPI) community to know that hate crimes are happening and teach them how to protect themselves. More importantly teaching them how to help a helpless person being targeted, as a bystander,” Moy said. “We need to educate the elderly but also educate the children of the elderly because if English is a second language, it’s hard for the elderly to report to the police.”
The Alliance is working with state leaders, like Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, to include language in hate crime laws that address those committed against Asians and Pacific Islanders. The group also met with the local FBI office to go over issues with underreporting.
“If the data is not recorded, you don’t know where the need is,” said Dr. Melody Agbisit, chair of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board, Health and Mental Health Committee.
In 2020, Northam appointed Agbisit as the health and mental health chair on the state Asian Advisory board. Agbisit is based in Virginia Beach. She works with Asian communities all over the state to address health. The coronavirus was the focus for the last year, and now the group has recognized a rise in anti-Asian American violence in the Commonwealth.
10 On Your Side contacted the seven cities in Hampton Roads to track the reports of hate crimes involving Asian Americans. The region reports zero hate crimes against Asian residents in 2020.
“Part of why it’s an underreported issue is because a lot of times crimes against Asians are not described as or counted as hate crimes. Whether it’s the person receiving it or the person hearing the report,” Agbisit said.
Agbisit organized meetings with Northam, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, and other groups met with Asian Americans from all over the state discussed needs and solutions.
“When they looked up the definition of hate crimes, the race is included, but it’s important to specifically say Asian (or AAPI) hate crimes and target that because it is not being counted,” Agbisit said.
Earlier this month, she organized an Anti-Asian hate meeting with the governor. She said hate crime policies must change to include the words “Asian or Pacific Islander.”
“We just want to be included in all aspects. We want to be included in health data, we want to be recorded on hate data, we want to be included even on achievements. We just want to be recorded, it’s such an elementary ask but that is where we are right now,” Agbisit said.
She said the Governor’s Office of Diversity Inclusion is looking to be more inclusive in state policy within different agencies.
Local lawmakers are working to making changes. The U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act last week. Sens. Mark Warner and Kaine co-sponsored the bill directs the U.S. Department of Justice to review COVID-19 Anti-Asian crimes and improve hate crimes reporting.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will now move on to the House for approval.