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A Year After A Brutal Beating in Koreatown, Neighbors Push For Action To End Anti-Asian Hate

Two women of Asian descent hug at a vigil held on a street corner where dozens of people have assembled, some holding signs with the faces of Asian people who have been killed around the world during the pandemic.
Dozens of people met in Koreatown to remember Asians attacked during the pandemic. Some held portraits of those killed.
(Josie Huang
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Under the gauzy glow of a shopping plaza sign in Koreatown, dozens of people gathered for a vigil Wednesday night to mark a bleak anniversary.

A few yards away from where they stood, on the corner of 6th and Berendo, is where a Korean American veteran named Denny Kim said he was attacked last February by two strangers who called him Asian slurs and left him with a concussion, black eye and broken nose. A year later, the attackers have not been found.

The case was one of 41 anti-Asian hate crimes that Los Angeles police investigated last year — a 173% increase over 2020 that, while dramatic, is still an undercount, according to community advocates who say many victims are reluctant to involve law enforcement.

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The attacks on locals and a national surge in anti-Asian violence have pushed neighborhood leaders into action over the past year. One of Wednesday’s vigil attendees, Steve Kang, said the Atlanta-area shooting massacre last March, which killed six women originally from Korea and China, was a tipping point for many.

“We were horrified by Atlanta, but ever since then we’ve been mobilizing to get the word out that enough is enough,” said Kang, director of external affairs for the Koreatown Youth and Community Center. “We want solutions from City Hall, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.”

Organizing Against Anti-Asian Hate

Koreatown, which has the city’s largest concentration of Asian residents, has become a center of organizing around anti-Asian violence. Kang and others have been pressing legislative leaders to more swiftly provide aid to victims of attacks. The Legislature approved the $166.5 million API Equity Fund last summer, but Kang said the rollout of grants and contracts to community organizations that would assist the victims is taking too long.

Some community leaders are also trying to get federal funds directly to victims. At the vigil, Reggie Wong asked others to sign onto a letter that will be sent to U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, requesting that funds from the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act be used for “medical expenses and psychological trauma support.”

“Should hate crime victims have to use a GoFundMe to pay their medical bills?” Wong asked.

“Nooo!” voices shouted in unison.

The letter was crafted by Neighborhood Safety Companions, for which Wong volunteers. The group was formed just under a year ago to provide chaperones to people walking alone through Koreatown. Volunteers also visit housing complexes for elderly residents in the neighborhood, providing safety training and distributing pepper spray and in-language booklets on how to handle racist attacks.

David Monkawa of Neighborhood Safety Companions said during a visit last Friday with 75 elderly Koreatown residents, four told him they had been attacked but had not reported their assaults.

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“They say: 'What’s the use? Nobody gets caught. Nobody does anything,'” Monkawa recounted.

The Need To Build Trust

The hate crimes coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department recognizes a need to build more trust in Asian and other marginalized communities. That’s why, said Det. Orlando Martinez, the department in December 2020 expanded what it treats as a hate crime. In the past, it might not have been enough to file a case against a perpetrator who uses racial slurs in an attack after a precipitating event — like being cut off in traffic, or having beer spilled on them. Now it is, Martinez said.

“So our [hate crime] numbers have gone way up,” Martinez said, noting cases jumped from 15 in 2020 to 41 in 2021. “But the reason we're doing that is because we know hate crimes are very underreported. We want victims to get the right type of help.”

LAPD recently partnered with the Korean American Coalition on an instructional video titled “Hate Crime Reporting 101.”

Eunice Song, executive director of the coalition, said staff members have been working with LAPD to improve reporting rates, which she says is starting to happen. Community members are also attending bystander intervention training, which her group helps to lead, providing Korean translation.

“After the tragic Atlanta shootings, numerous folks in the community voiced that they could not be silent anymore,” Song said in a message. “They didn’t want to keep their head down any longer.”

Some community activists in Koreatown, though, don’t have much faith in the ability of authorities to help victims or the hate crime reporting process itself, noting that the perpetrator has to have shown bias when, they say, a racist attack doesn’t always involve slurs.

Others worry LAPD involvement will encourage over-policing in Black and brown communities. They say they would rather get to the root of the problem by pushing for more investment in housing and health care for people at risk of spiraling into violence.

Addressing Fears

Some attacks on Asians in Los Angeles and beyond have been at the hands of unhoused people. Most recently in New York, Christina Yuna Lee was followed off the street by a man who entered her apartment and stabbed her to death.

At the Koreatown vigil, Andreina Kniss of Ktown for All, a group that provides mutual aid to unhoused residents, addressed fears people have about the unhoused population. She asserted that “most people are good” and those who commit crimes are dealing with issues such as drug dependency and trauma.

Kniss cautioned against falling into “the media definition of what safety is.”

“You're going to see in the news ... clamoring for the police to get more money,” Kniss said. “You're going to see them identify the race of people who have harmed other people as the solution. And that's cheap. “

KTown for All was part of the coalition that organized Wednesday’s vigil along with Koreatown Youth and Community Center, API-RISE, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and Neighborhood Safety Companions. An evident goal was to promote multi-racial, multi-ethnic solidarity.

At the vigil, Andre Henry, a musician and activist from Inglewood, choked up addressing the crowd as he drew parallels between his experience as a Black person and those of Asian Americans.

After naming Black people killed by police such as Tamir Rice and Anthony McClain, Henry said, "I know how it feels to see people like you dead in the news, dead on the internet.”

“I know how it feels to hear horrendous stereotypes about yourself and your people,” Henry said. “And I just want to say we really are in this together."

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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