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Attorney General Tong: remain vigilant against anti-Asian violence

While the recent spike in violence against Asian Americans across the country does not appear to be a growing issue in Connecticut, Attorney General William Tong said many Asian Americans here remain on alert.

Tong said his office has not received any recent complaints of anti-Asian bigotry, but the issue has continued to be a concern throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really worried about it,” Tong said in an interview last week. “I’m worried about it for my own family. There are a lot of aggressions that go unreported. That’s a huge problem with hate crimes generally.”

“People are really worried about how it will affect them at work and how it will affect their kids in school,” he said.

In 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, which was established in response to the “alarming” escalation in xenophobia and bigotry that’s resulted from the pandemic, received 2,800 reports, 240 of which were physical assaults.

On its website, the center says it “tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in California and where possible throughout the United States.”

In recent weeks, there have been reports of violence against older Asian Americans including 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee of San Francisco, who died two days after he was shoved while out on his morning walk.

“Nobody should think we’re immune from this or that it couldn’t happen here,” Tong said. “People need to be vigilant and support each other.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Tong’s office has received complaints of cyberbullying against people of Asian descent and of people not patronizing Chinese restaurants because they’re “taking an unreasonable position that they’re going to get COVID at these restaurants, which is totally false,” he said. Chinese business owners tell him this continues to be an issue.

Tong said early in the pandemic he saw a video showing a Chinese woman in Stamford, where he lives, being assaulted in a supermarket. Tong himself has received hateful messages on his personal Facebook page.

“I can take it. I’m the attorney general. I know I’m a magnet for criticism, but that doesn’t excuse people being hateful to anyone,” he said. “If it happens to me, it definitely happens to citizens across the state.”

People of Asian descent represented 4.4% of the population in New London County in 2019 and 4.9% of the population statewide, according to the U.S. census.

The recent targeting of elderly and more vulnerable Asian Americans is particularly heartbreaking, said Kevin Saythany, a member of the Norwich Board of Education who is of Laotian descent.

“We’re all human beings here. We’re all Americans. Our communities are interconnected,” he said. “We have to hold each other accountable.”

Saythany said his 50-year-old mother, who came to the U.S. from Laos for a “sense of peace,” has told him she’s particularly worried about the most recent attacks. 

There’s a sense among younger people of Asian descent that it’s time to speak out about what’s happening, Saythany said.

“My generation is not going to be silenced. We’re going to be vocal about it, “the 29-year-old said. “We know that something has to be changed. We know we have to come together to invest in our communities for the safety of Asian Americans and for everybody."

j.bergman@theday.com

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