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Op-Ed: Stand Up, Fight Back: It’s the City’s Job to Protect Asian-Americans

The Elmhurst Chinatown on Broadway (Photo: Queens Post)

Feb. 22, 2021 By Amit Singh Bagga

From refusal of service to racist rants to vicious, violent attacks on the subway, including the harrowing recent incident against Noel Quintana, a Filipino man whose face was slashed from end to end with a boxcutter, we’ve seen a terrifying rise in anti-Asian hatred in New York City.

Worse yet, far too many City leaders are denying that there’s a problem. But while this type of bias and hatred has deep roots in our nation, there’s also an additional culprit this time, one that’s gone from threatening our democratic structures to now endangering our very lives: online misinformation and disinformation.

While cracking down on this truly global and national threat is going to require unprecedented actions by national governments and social media companies, with the lives of New Yorkers at stake, the City cannot simply wait for others to step up. We must use all the tools that are available to us to stop the proliferation of hatred, bias, and violence at their root.

Our communities in particular are no strangers to the spread of hateful falsehoods. Even before social media—following 9/11 for example—Arab, Muslim, and also South Asian families (like mine) suffered grotesque verbal and physical assaults, with my own turbaned Sikh father being constantly profiled. Sikhs were murdered across the country, from gas stations in Arizona to temples in Wisconsin.

It’s hard to describe how constant and destabilizing this fear becomes to those who haven’t felt it or how painful it is to have its existence denied—especially by those in government we trust to keep us safe.

Through the 2016 election, Brexit, and most recently in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, most of us have come to understand that online disinformation can have society-shaking results, and we are now seeing how it can spark direct violence in our streets and subways because of rapid, unchecked amplification.

But the recent spate of anti-Asian attacks have given this issue new urgency.

The City’s own Commission on Human Rights received nearly 400 complaints of “coronavirus-related” incidents just between February and May of 2020, with 37 percent being directed towards Asian-Americans—a tenfold increase compared to the same period the year prior.

Given that such incidents are always grossly underreported and that the pandemic has continued to rage, we know the real number is in the thousands. Our City must act against the spread of racist disinformation directly where it is and in places the City has likely never been before.

First and foremost, this means combatting these falsehoods where they operate. The City must invest in meaningful and dedicated resources to combat misinformation and disinformation (and yes, millions of dollars will be required). These efforts will require leveraging technology, communications, and local organizing in order to impact the way that false information travels and proactively communicate the truth to reach every segment of our population.

Amit Singh Bagga Photo: Amit For Council

We can only fight falsehoods with the truth, and we cannot let vacuums of information be colonized by dangerous, hateful, and false rhetoric.

This means that the messaging and content must not only be clear, but “attractive” and shareable, like the very disinformation it seeks to replace.

This is not only about being convincing and correct, but also about bending the very online dynamics that enable the spread of these dangerous falsehoods toward justice, truth, and safety.

Next, in addition to major investments in truth-telling, meaningful expansion of the City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) would send a clear signal to all New Yorkers that the City is taking this threat seriously. Though it has had bold leadership, the agency has been chronically underfunded and has been under-equipped to tackle systematic, disinformation-fueled bias and hatred faced by our community or any other.

CCHR is budgeted for just $14 million in the current Fiscal Year – that’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the City’s budget. Even taking into account our multi-billion-dollar deficit, CCHR is clearly a top target for where we should be investing our resources while we are divesting from all that’s broken about the NYPD.

Further, working with our State colleagues, we must explore giving CCHR direct authority to bring its own cases in State court, truly allowing it to hold individuals responsible for threatening our lives accountable.

Finally, City government needs to directly empower communities to fight the fear and disinformation that’s led to bias and violence.

Frankly, many New Yorkers aren’t going to trust information unless it’s being communicated by someone who they feel they can trust – and far too often, that “someone” isn’t government.

We faced very similar headwinds in our fight for a complete and accurate census count in New York City, which is precisely why we invested, for the first time in the City’s history, millions of public dollars directly into more than 160 organizations serving Black, Brown, and immigrant communities in more than 80 languages, specifically for the purpose of linguistically and culturally competent organizing.

This approach, combined with millions invested in every type of media available in our city, resulted in nearly every majority-Black neighborhood in New York City outperforming its 2010 participation rate, major increases in response in immigrant communities across the city over the census period, and the city overall achieving a self-response rate higher than that of most major cities in the U.S. Yes, this was hard and expensive to do, but it needed to be done.

Bias and hatred against Asian-Americans has a long and shameful history in our nation, as does the diminishing of its severity by our government. Particularly in the vacuum of action by others, City government has to treat anti-Asian hatred as the urgent civil and human rights issue that it is, and put our fight against it in the same frame as our fight against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism.

This obligation extends to us as Asian-Americans as well, and the terrifying rise in hatred against us over the last year serves as an important reminder of the critical fight against anti-Blackness we must continue to wage within our own communities, for the liberation of one oppressed people is intrinsically tied to the liberation of all oppressed peoples.

We need to fight this old-but-evolving 21st-century problem with an evolved 21st century approach. Keeping us safe against this threat will be difficult and expensive, but if we truly care about the lives of all New Yorkers, we have to recognize that our City budget is a moral document and put our money where our mouth is.

As we prepare for the next budget cycle, City government needs to stand up and fight back. It needs to take up these proposals and put forward a meaningful plan (with real dollars attached) about how we can fight misinformation and disinformation in order to keep the fabric of our communities strong and protect our lives — including the lives of all Asian-American New Yorkers.

Amit Singh Bagga is a candidate for City Council District 26.

email the author: [email protected]

22 Comments

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Logan

Government sponsored truth-telling? Seriously? Can we follow that idea to it’s conclusion? You do not want the government (a state authority) in the game of telling you what is “true,” or controlling the marketplace of ideas.

ALL crime is up. There are more victims of anti-Asian violence, because there are more victims of violence across New York City as a a whole. Instead of propaganda, we should be calling on the government to commit to public safety.

We need to stop focusing on the differences between groups, and start focusing on the common good.

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Charles Castro

There are 54 countries in Asia, why do they continue to use the term Asian, to describe mostly Chinese. Or were they referring to all of these?It is such a closed minded, even racist term. Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, …

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No more identity politics!

It’s the government’s job to protect ALL of its law-abiding people.

Why is that so difficult to understand?

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Why does the Radical Right want everything to be PC?

I’m sorry the phrasing offended you, can you point out the part of the article where they say ALL people should NOT be protected?

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Tip Top

These attacks are directly related to Trump and Right wing media. Direct statements and those embedded with encrypted messages should be held accountable for conveying threats and intimidation. It turns out Trump has been communicating with Q” through coded messages in his speeches. Look up the tip top speech.,

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Hashtagger

Charles – Yes? Is there a polar or general question you’re responding to that we’re not seeing ?

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Bill

I don’t see any editorials written about protecting Jews when they are attacked only people of color.

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Because you didn’t see an article doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore crimes and criminals

Bill – There are and were plenty of editorials written. Plenty. Just because you didn’t see them or the news outlets you access just didn’t seem the subject significant and didn’t bother to publish or air them, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be editorials speaking out about a crime targeting other Americans in our own streets.

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John S

Bill – When somebody speaks out against race driven attacks against one group, it doesn’t mean they accept attacks on another group. It’s like saying let’s cure breast cancer, it doesn’t mean the person is saying don’t find a cure for other and all cancers.

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Gabby

Welcome to the Black and Hispanic/Latino Experience my Asian Brothers and Sisters. Now take charge with us. Run for office. Research Candidates and vote, Vote, VOTE!

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Tree of Liberty

Gabby, the only difference is that the majority of people doing the slashing, robbing and beating up of Asian people are Black and Brown. The black and browns even are gonna be taking earned spots from elite high schools in NYC from Asians who have worked and earned them spots

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Asians should sue Fox and Republicans

The assaults on Asian Americans is the direct result of lies and propaganda spread by a group of corrupt political operatives and its propaganda outlet.

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You should sue your parents and teachers

Yet most of the crimes are done by what looks like liberal/ progressive types? How can that be? Oh it’s because of systemic racism that they act out in violence because we as a society hate them. That’s why… another lame excuse by the left. You know how you can disprove that, look at other races. How can they succeed? But let’s leave this rant with another Joe Biden classic: “You ain’t black if you don’t vote for me!”

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Anonymous

Right the Black and Hispanic perps responsible for most of the reported cases are obvious Republican/ Fox viewers.

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