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Advocacy group launches national network to combat anti-Asian hate

Frank Irigon with the Organization of Chinese Americans speaks during a rally against anti-Asian hate on March 13 in Seattle. (Jason Redmond/AFP)
Frank Irigon with the Organization of Chinese Americans speaks during a rally against anti-Asian hate on March 13 in Seattle. (Jason Redmond/AFP)
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An advocacy organization founded last spring in response to anti-Asian racism announced Tuesday it has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants to combat a rise in hate incidents, including partnerships with activists in New York, Chicago and Oakland, Calif.

The Asian American Foundation said the funds are part of a broader effort to develop a more coordinated strategy among national and grass-roots groups dedicated to protecting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and supporting victims of hate crimes.

In unveiling the “anti-hate national network,” the foundation said it has distributed unspecified grants to seven national membership organizations, including several South Asian groups, and $500,000 apiece to the Asian American Federation in New York City, the Chinese American Service League in Chicago and Asian Health Services in Oakland.

Officials said the recipients represent a mix of ethnic groups and regional diversity, emphasizing that the local grants are intended as a pilot program that could be replicated in other cities if the initiatives are successful.

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“After the hate-crimes bill passed, we needed to keep the momentum up and make sure there was . . . money and resources for the community,” said Sonal Shah, the foundation’s president, referring to the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act that President Biden signed into law in May. The bill bolsters efforts by the Justice Department and local police agencies to improve tracking and investigations into hate crimes.

The grants bring the total amount the group has distributed to more than $7 million for anti-hate initiatives, she said. In the spring, the foundation announced it had received financial pledges totaling $1.1 billion.

Shah, a former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama, said the foundation aims to connect a broad range of smaller organizations, which have deep ties to their communities but struggle to raise adequate funding and share ideas with peers across the country. The group’s leaders met in May with Biden and Vice President Harris, who is the first person of Asian descent and the first Black woman to hold national elected office.

The effort comes as grass-roots groups are reporting what advocates say is a rise in anti-Asian hate that coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based advocacy group, has tallied more than 9,000 incidents through a self-reporting hotline since March 2020.

The majority of those incidents were related to verbal harassment and shunning, with physical assault constituting about 14 percent, the group said.

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The FBI’s 2020 hate-crime report, released in August, showed the number of attacks targeting Asian people jumped from 158 to at least 274, a 73 percent increase, with data from Ohio still being vetted by federal officials. Advocates said the FBI’s data, gathered from local law enforcement agencies, probably represents an undercount because thousands of departments do not participate in the annual survey or report no hate crimes.

The Asian American Foundation said the grants to local advocacy groups will be tailored to each community and will help expand programs that provide mental health services, legal aid, self-defense training and de-escalation strategies.

“It’s a really critical start,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation in New York. “We’ve never had this kind of coordinated national effort. A lot of us have been working on various pieces, looking at different areas. What this grant does is bring us together to have a collective voice and share best practices.”

The national groups that have joined the foundation’s network are Act to Change, the Asian American Journalists Association, Interfaith Youth Core, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Rise Together Fund, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Sikh Coalition. In August 2012, six people were killed and four wounded in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. A seventh victim died last year of complications related to his wounds.