Preventing hate and discrimination

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

| Photo by Jayson Leung on Unsplash

Following the Washington, DC leg of the reporting tour program organized by the Philippine embassy in Washington for a group of journalists from print, online, and broadcast news outfits, the next leg was in New York for a more in-depth perspective on the concerns and issues that Filipinos face in the city, among them anti-Asian hate, immigration, and employment.

Our consulate in New York informed me that the journalists were able to engage with various city government officials, including Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Hannah Yu, chief of the Hate Crimes Unit; Hassan Naveed, executive director of the New York City Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes; Jasper Diaz, legislative representative of the Mayor’s office; Peter Koo, Senior Adviser of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Mirna Velasquez, Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Foreign Consular Affairs.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in hate incidents against Asians across the United States, with New York registering one of the biggest numbers of hate crimes directed at Asian Americans, according to reports. During the briefing by Assistant DA Hannah Yu, she disclosed that the city recently increased its budget to include $1.7 million for the Hate Crimes Unit – underscoring the growing concern for the anti-Asian hate crime incidents that have increased in the last two years, with Manhattan seeing some of the highest numbers of cases.

“Hate crimes are on everyone’s minds – whether they are taking their kids to school, riding the subway or on their way to work, and we understand, through the work that we do, that New Yorkers feel this threat every single day,” Yu acknowledged, adding that currently, they have the largest hate crimes docket ever in the history of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, with anti-Asian hate crimes making up the largest category of open hate crime cases at the moment.

“… if a victim is undocumented, her office cannot, and does not, report the information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Department of Homeland Security, as they are not also allowed to do that.”

However, she reassured me that making New Yorkers feel safe is a top priority of her office and that they leave no stone unturned as far as investigating the motives go. What makes it difficult and challenging, however, is when the perpetrator is not identified – either there was no CCTV footage to document the incident, or the victim cannot recall the face of the assailant.

According to the FBI, a hate crime is a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, or what Yu described as the “protected identity” of a victim. She was also careful to emphasize that the immigration status of a victim does not matter. One reason why crimes are underreported is that undocumented immigrants may hesitate to file a complaint due to fear of deportation. As Yu explained, if a victim is undocumented, her office cannot, and does not, report the information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Department of Homeland Security, as they are not also allowed to do that.

For his part, Diaz assured that they are taking a multi-agency approach to address discrimination. Aside from legal options, other initiatives include a pilot program that would teach students about hate crimes. Naveed echoed this, explaining that education is a major pillar of the “comprehensive approach” to preventing hate crimes through community-based programs. For instance, town halls in Tagalog and other languages are conducted to spread awareness of how community members can help each other, particularly the most vulnerable. For his part, Koo said that most of the crimes are committed by people who are homeless or are suffering from mental health problems.

There is no question that anti-Asian hate crimes continue to be a concern, but authorities are “exhausting every possible avenue” to address them. And while they see results, Diaz admits that “there is still more to be done,” assuring that they are “going to continue to work hard for our community.”

As I have consistently explained to the media, we have been coordinating with New York authorities to address the issue, knowing that the safety of Filipinos is paramount. We’re also cooperating not only with Filipino-American groups but with other Asian associations as well to get a more accurate picture of the reported incidents and see if these are hate crimes or just random attacks by mentally unhinged individuals.

The visiting journalists also spoke with Bergenfield, New Jersey mayor Arvin Amatorio, the second Filipino mayor in New Jersey. The borough of Bergenfield is known as the “Little Manila” of Bergen County due to the presence of many Filipino-owned businesses that offer authentic Filipino cuisine. An estimated 7,000 Filipinos live in Bergenfield, many working as nurses and health care workers.

Mayor Amatorio also shared that part of the curriculum developed by professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would include a subject on the heroism of Filipino veterans during World War II to underscore the alliance and shared history of the Philippines and the United States. This will be taught in a public high school in Bergenfield with about 3,000 students. The initiative was started by retired US Army general Antonio Taguba, who actively lobbied to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Filipino World War II veterans.

The outcome of the reporting tour program has been very encouraging as far as providing journalists with an on-the-ground perspective is concerned. We were informed that the DFA public information office is considering future programs for implementation.


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