Hundreds of people from all walks of life pledged Saturday to protect each other from racialized violence and abuse directed at Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has appeared to worsen in recent weeks with a string of high-profile attacks, including on elders.
A rally and march in Seattle’s Chinatown International District was one of several events planned in the region over a handful of days to raise awareness, demand action from political leaders and fight back against the attacks.
Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, elected as the nation’s first Chinese American governor in 1996, led the crowd in a chant of “Hate is a virus!” He recounted the history of racist and exclusionary policies at all levels of government directed at Asian Americans, who have “always been treated like foreigners” and scapegoated.
In reality, Locke said, everyone but Native Americans are foreigners who came to this country from somewhere else. “And it’s that constant infusion of people from all around the world — cultures, languages and ideas — that makes America great,” he said.
“This violence against Asian Americans, and especially our elderly, has got to stop,” Locke said, calling people who have perpetrated the attacks “nothing but cowardly, racist thugs.”
Many speakers at the event bristled at the idea that Asian Americans are the “model minority” who have quietly taken abuse in the past.
Among them was Noriko Nasu, who teaches Japanese at Inglemoor High School, and who, with her boyfriend, was seriously injured in what prosecutors described as a “vicious and unprovoked attack” on the night of Feb. 25, not far from where she addressed the crowd in Hing Hay Park.
Nasu noted that the man — Sean Holdip, charged last week by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with two counts of second degree felony assault — was arrested in the same park. She indicated she was dissatisfied that, if convicted, he faced a potential sentence of only 12 to 14 months behind bars.
“Do you feel they take our safety seriously?” Nasu asked the crowd.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, in an online post about the case Wednesday, said the charges would carry a longer punishment than a hate crime, and that evidence gathered so far did not appear to be sufficient to prove a hate crime.
“We are ethically bound to only bring cases that we believe can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote. “We’re open to changing the charge if additional evidence is found or if the suspect makes additional statements.
“We take hate crimes seriously, including the disturbing national trend of hate crimes against Asian Americans.”
Satterberg’s office filed 59 hate crime cases last year, an increase from 39 in 2019.
Nasu said that since her assault became public, she has been contacted by many Asian American people sharing their own stories of abuse.
“I was horrified to know that so many of us have experienced, and are experiencing, pain, and nothing has been done,” she said. “Those are silent stories. But we’re not going to be silent anymore.”
“It’s time for us to get angry,” Nasu added. “It’s time to demand justice.”
Ben Yan, 23, a speaker and one of several young people who organized the event through groups including Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Engagement, said that apart from the higher-profile attacks, he and his friends have endured racist taunts, been told to “go back to your country” and been spit on.
Yan, who attended high school and college in the Seattle area, said the attacks and abuse have been shocking in a community with a large Asian American population.
“It’s very upsetting,” he said. “It’s very frustrating to see.”
Yan and other speakers urged people to stand up and say something when anyone is being targeted with racist abuse, particularly elders, and urged lawmakers to do more.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, whose wife is Japanese American, said at the event his forthcoming budget proposal would include “substantial funding” for education and publicity “to address racially based hate and bias in our community.”
He noted the racist language used by former President Donald Trump, who early in the pandemic called it the “China virus,” rhetoric that many at the event said has stoked the wave of anti-Asian American violence. While COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, its actual origin remains under investigation.
President Joe Biden in his address to the nation Thursday condemned as “un-American” the violence and scapegoating directed at Asian Americans. As one of his first acts as president, Biden signed an executive order denouncing such violence and directing federal agencies to include education as part of their pandemic response.
This story was updated at 6:50 p.m. on March 15, 2021, to clarify a quotation. Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.