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What some metro Detroit organizations are doing to combat growing anti-Asian hate

Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 150% in 2020
Posted at 4:50 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 15:34:26-04

(WXYZ) — If you've been watching the news lately you've no doubt seen incident after incident where people of Asian descent have been viciously attacked.

In fact, Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150% in 2020 mostly in New York and Los Angeles, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

We've also seen the numbers creep up here in Michigan, that is why the community of Madison Heights, which is home to the Association of Chinese Americans, is doing its part to prevent hate and to be more open to welcoming all.

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The history behind each photograph inside the Association of Chinese Americans' building in Madison Heights could easily represent America today, from fighting for immigration reform to battling against Asian hate – only these snapshots are from more than 30 years ago.

In 1982, Vincent Chen was murdered by a man who blamed Japanese car imports for the loss of American auto jobs.

“There was an exchange of words: 'Mr. Ebens, because of you we're out of work,'” said Roland Hwang.

Hwang was an attorney on the case. He says Chen was chased, beaten and died four days later. His attackers were given probation and a fine.

“That is what galvanized the Asian American community to come together and create a movement and a civil rights organization: American Citizens for Justice,” Hwang said.

Fast forward to today, the uproar now surrounding COVID-19 and the possible link to a Chinese lab. A new study revealed calling COVID the "China virus" has resulted in a shift in how many people in the U.S. perceive Asian Americans.

“People have a concern about going out, even alone or to do just simple grocery shopping or to just do their daily errands,” said Shenlin Chen.

Over the past year, the number of violent hate crimes against people of Asian descent has risen, including a series of mass shootings at spas in Atlanta on March 16. Eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women.

RELATED: Michigan politicians react to Biden administration's order combating racism toward Asian communities

“Last year, since the 'China virus,' things got even worse,” said Shenlin Chen, president of the Association of Chinese Americans. “It's not a surprise to me but it's worse than I thought. We should see this as a health care issue, it's not political.”

On the news, both locally and nationally, you most often see African Americans attacking people of Asian descent.

With more than 200 Asian restaurants in Madison Heights, this is the unofficial China Town of Southeast Michigan and when the killings in Atlanta spiked fear in this community the mayor reached out.

“Do you want me to come there? Do you want me to bring my police chief and the next day we were out,” said Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein.

They did a town hall and the chief taught people protection skills, from looking around to making a lot of noise so people see you and call 911. They even handed out yellow whistles for protection.

“I think it's great that this is available, but I think it's a really sad time that you feel you have to have something like this to keep you safe,” Grafstein said.

According to the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate report, there have been nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents reported between March of 2020 and February of 2021, from all 50 states, including 16 in Michigan.

“Go back to China when they are not even coming from China and people who went up North to buy some takeout and got denied for service,” Chen added. “Two strangers, that joined her Zoom class, they shouted to her: 'Why you bring me Chinese virus? Why don't you go back to China?'”

Sharon Dow, vice president of the Associations of Chinese Americans, retired from Chrysler where she says diversity was a priority but now with COVID, she feels history is repeating itself.

“I remember when my daughter was little, she came back from kindergarten and told me, 'Ma this Japanese, this Chinese.' It broke my heart because she did not realize that's a type of discrimination, so we had to educate the kids,” Dow said.

So now they are giving out books to area schools to help educate children about Asian culture.

“And that's why you feel these books are really important too, to get into the hands of children?" asked Carolyn Clifford during her interview.

“Very much so," Hwang said. "The fact of the matter is if you have an Asian American student going through U.S. history reading all the books, novels, whatever, they don't find themselves there."

From books to PPE, vaccine clinics, even care packages – all efforts they hope will lead to new photographs that will show a legacy of inclusion for generations to come.