Vicha Ratanapakdee was an 84-year-old Thai man who liked to take walks in his home city of San Francisco. While on one of these morning walks, Ratanapakdee was assaulted and died two days later from sustained injuries.
Security footage captured the scene of the elderly man being shoved by a hooded assailant. Running at full speed, the assailant body slammed Ratanapakdee to the ground. According to an article published in Time magazine, nineteen-year-old Antoine Watson has since been charged with and pleaded not guilty to murder and elder abuse.
Ratanapakdee is one of the many elderly Asian Americans to have been targeted because of his ethnicity.
Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. has seen an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, ranging from violent assault to property vandalism. Asian Americans, primarily the elderly, are being attacked and assaulted on the streets, unprovoked.
Although hate crimes have always been committed against the Asian American community, and against all minority communities, it seems as though the pandemic has amplified the frequency and intensity of these attacks.
To better understand the situation from within the Asian community, and from within the UCCS community, members of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union (APISU) were interviewed about the topic. Rachel Ottoson and Emily Nguyen, both members of APISU, provided their perspective.
Ottoson, a criminal justice major and current vice president of APISU, stated that she experienced this new wave of racism firsthand. At a former job in her home state of Minnesota last spring, Ottoson recalled how a man came up to her and started to verbally assault her; she was spit on and cursed at for being an Asian American.
Ottoson describes herself as mixed. Her mother is Thai and Lao while her father is white.
Nguyen is a psychology major who was previously both the vice president and president of APISU and is now a club advisor. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. after the end of the Vietnam War.
Nguyen said that she has not personally experienced any of these hate crimes but knows of people who have. She expressed concern about members of her family who could be targets in these attacks.
Further, Nguyen said that she is often the most worried about her grandmother and fears for her safety due to her age.
“That makes me worried…is something going to happen to them? My family members are more on the older side and more vulnerable. I am not sure my grandma knows what’s happening,” Nguyen said.
When asked about their initial reactions to the hate crimes, both Nguyen and Ottoson said that they were shocked but not surprised.
“When people are upset and their lives are being affected, a lot of times people want someone to blame,” Ottoson remarked.
Nguyen added that the stereotypes and assumptions that America had about other countries have been exacerbated during the pandemic, leading to more misunderstanding and, therefore, violence. She used the example of wet markets, proclaiming how Americans surmised that COVID-19 was a result of the stereotype that the Chinese often ate bizarre and exotic animals.
Both Ottoson and Nguyen believe that the biggest blame is on former President Donald Trump and his administration. They speculated that Trump’s rhetoric, tone and diction were the cause of the increased violence against Asians and minorities in America.
More specifically they blamed his use of the phrase ‘Chinese virus,’ a phrase they believe was used to motivate people to take aggressive action against Asians in America.
Because of his platform, Trump had the power to affect and influence Americans’ actions, Nguyen explained.
“We can see in the statistics that hate crimes have sky rocketed. The administration gave a voice to a lot of hateful people in a lot of hateful groups and really politicized this issue. Blame it on the Chinese. Blame it on Asian people. They just felt like it was their right to do it and get away with it,” Ottoson said.
Ottoson believes that the attacks mainly targeted the elderly because they were the most vulnerable and could not defend themselves. Nguyen thinks that elderly Asians presented a target because they are seen as less assimilated into American culture compared to younger Asians. Elderly Asians could represent more traditional Asian customs and values, she added.
Nguyen assured that change was possible, but it needed to start from within the community. People need to step in when they see hate crimes and put a stop to them, she said.
“Everyone should be cognizant,” Nguyen said.
She sees this problem as being connected to racial and ethnic minority issues in the U.S. and hopes that this issue supplements race movements, like Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Ottoson believes that the most effective solution is “to make sure that this virus and hate against Asians is not politicized anymore by spreading awareness, becoming more empathetic to each other and understanding what people may perceive as different.”
APISU is currently looking to meet in person again, thereby allowing further discussion of this issue within the organization. Going forward, Ottoson stated that she will try to incorporate other student unions in events and conversations in order to raise awareness and unity regarding this and many other race related issues in America.