‘Stopping AAPI Hate’ can’t just be about locking people up


Kevin Nguyen

A major “Stop Asian Hate” rally in San Jose, March 2021.

We need to stop violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but we cannot stop it by locking away perpetrators.

As headlines and viral videos of anti-Asian hate appear onto our screens at an alarming rate, we crave retribution: “Lock them up, toss the key and keep them away.”

But that instinct does nothing to solve the problem.

Blaming everything on “Black-on-Asian crime” or “soft-on-crime district attorneys” oversimplifies the conversation and ignores the history of anti-Asian hate.

Social media can make these crimes feel new, but they are not.

The U.S. has exploited and continues to exploit Asian Americans in the labor market. It banned immigration from China in the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and threw its Japanese American citizens into internment camps in World War II.

You should see this moment as an inflection point — a chance to figure out what we are going to do about longtime anti-Asian hate now. And locking suspects up is not the answer.

If you put aside the skin color of attackers and victims for a moment, you will find other common themes: class, mental illness, poverty and mainly neglect. These factors breed racialized interactions.

This is why a rich cities like Cupertino experience fewer anti-Asian attacks. Anti-Asian racism comes in more unspoken and insidious forms, like mixing up two Asian American coworkers.

So locking perpetrators up is just as unhelpful as shoveling a mess into a closet. If retribution was truly the answer, then the U.S., the world leader in incarceration, should be safer than it is.

Hate crime legislation does not stop attacks because it does not address the factors that breed violence in the first place.

Stopping anti-Asian violence will require all of us, not just prosecutors and prison guards.

We must examine why so many people are left behind in a supposedly wealthy country. We need to learn how to thrive with, not in spite of, one another.

Lives need to matter before they are gone or locked away.