Asian businesses in San Jose, California, became the public face of a new “hate crime” scourge visited upon Asian-Americans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The problem with purported “hate crimes,” unfortunately, is that you have to wait until the “hate criminal” is identified.
In this case, Milpitas, California, police have arrested 42-year-old Tai Van Trinh as the suspect in the case. Not to be too pithy here, but he isn’t of German extraction.
First, the crimes. Here’s a report from the San Jose Spotlight (“Your search for truth starts here,” their tagline goes) on April 23: “‘Every single window was smashed:’ Asian-owned San Jose businesses targeted.”
“It just makes me feel extremely heartbroken that there are people out there who would do such a thing,” Vinh Pham, co-owner of Seven Leaves Cafe, one of the targeted businesses, told the Spotlight.
“I saw that every single window was smashed and I was just in awe.”
“It’s adding more to the overall cost, stress and headache. It’s creating fear and worry for our customers and employees,” Thang Le, co-owner of another targeted business, said.
With the assistance of San Jose PD Detectives, #MilpitasPD Detectives have identified Tai Van Trinh, 42-year-old #Milpitas resident, as the suspect responsible for vandalizing three businesses in Milpitas and five businesses in SJ on 04/22/20. https://t.co/tmCaR4PtVE pic.twitter.com/sbsP6z8uda
— Milpitas Police (@MilpitasPD) April 28, 2020
In spite of that headline, the Spotlight noted this: “Based on preliminary investigation, police said there is no indication that the incidents are hate motivated crimes. And Le says he sympathizes with the suspect, suggesting that the suspect and his family could be enduring a hardship, which prompted him to vandalize the businesses.”
Here’s KTVU on April 22: “A vandal destroyed windows of at least seven businesses in the South Bay early Wednesday morning but took nothing. Some of the businesses are boba tea shops and all of them are Asian-owned. The majority of the businesses are in the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose.
“All of the businesses are open for takeout during the shelter in place order and trying to stay afloat. No one knows why they were targeted.”
Again, what’s being put upfront here? The fact these were Asian businesses.
Was this irresponsible journalism on the part of these outlets?
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We also know why that’s being foregrounded. The narrative that Asians are being targeted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — and the attendant narrative that we should really be nicer to the government in Beijing because blaming them for their role in deliberately mismanaging the early stages of the virus’ spread and the oppression of their citizens that followed leads to bigotry against Asian people — is the only reason the media cares about this.
Yet, look through both of these stories and it becomes clear that, even if the suspect hadn’t been named, there isn’t any actual evidence that there was a so-called “hate crime” here.
If this were a “hate crime,” why wouldn’t the person behind it have left behind evidence to make it clear he was intimidating Asian people? And, perhaps most importantly, did the suspect know these were Asian businesses or did the vandalism spree simply occur in a part of town where Asian businesses are predominant?
Now, I’m not a beat reporter in San Jose, so what do I know about the Berryessa neighborhood? Enough to Google it and find out what the demographics are. According to Statistical Atlas, 61.9 percent of the neighborhood is Asian; it doesn’t take much extrapolation to realize that not only is the likelihood of vandalism against Asian targets is pretty high but the likelihood of the vandal being Asian is also pretty high.
Further use of Google — it’s a handy website, in case you’re like a whole cohort of San Jose-based journalists who seem unaware of it — shows that several of the restaurants targeted were along a stretch of Berryessa Road, which is home to a significant number of Asian restaurants.
It would have been nice if the media would have considered that maybe, given the preponderance of Asian restaurants along the stretch of road where some of the incidents happened, the story they wanted to report on wasn’t there,
I have nothing but empathy for the business owners and residents in Berryessa, and not just because their businesses were vandalized or because they’re obviously trying to survive during a difficult time.
“The country is living through surreal times,” Thi Tran, a Berryessa resident and law student at Santa Clara University, said.
“It is important, more now than ever, for the Asian-American communities, for our allies, for elected representatives to call these unconscionable acts for what they are — all at the same time combating them through education, solidarity and thoughtfulness.”
Tran’s fear is genuine and horrifying, even if the wellspring of it feels manufactured.
Most of the Spotlight’s story about the not-hate-crime allegedly committed by an Asian man against Asian restaurants in an Asian neighborhood is dedicated to the specter of coronavirus-related “hate crimes.”
Here’s a passage from the Spotlight’s story that helpfully explains my issues with how they handled this delicate situation:
“Local officials and law enforcement have decried hate crimes against Asians since the coronavirus outbreak. The San Jose City Council and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors this month passed resolutions to denounce xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office also pressed its first charge for a misdemeanor hate crime related to coronavirus. The District Attorney released a public-service announcement video last month condemning hate crimes during the public health crisis.”
A huge city and populous county both passed resolutions condemning “anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic.”
The Spotlight pointed out, not wrongly, that there are a panoply of other officials who have condemned it, and rightly so. In Santa Clara County, the district attorney went far enough to release a PSA to condemn it.
With all that energy fighting what sounds like a wave of criminal anti-Asian bigotry, Spotlight writer Nicholas Chan found a single misdemeanor “hate crime” to back this up.
To further buttress his case, he cited a web portal from the Asian-American Pacific Islander Civil Rights Center “where victims can report discrimination, receiving more than 1,000 reports in the first two weeks” and noted how “[a]lmost 100 cases of coronavirus discrimination are being reported daily across the country, according to an online reporting center launched by San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council.”
I hate to minimize any of these reports, but none of them are backed up by direct evidence. That’s a big problem for a reason.
A whole truckload of fear has been unloaded by the media on a community of individuals who now live in a state of panic because of their race, since they’re told the Chinese government’s responsibility for the spread of coronavirus will somehow be transferred to them. They self-report instances of discrimination, which are therefore used as evidence to justify that panic and ratchet it up further.
This isn’t responsible journalism. It’s a narrative in search of a crime — and when reporters can’t find the right type of criminal, there’s nothing stopping them from reporting on it how they want, anyway.
“Your search for truth starts here,” indeed.
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