By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Kitsap County has not experienced an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans that Seattle and other communities across the nation have experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to local law enforcement agencies contacted by Kitsap Daily News.
Anti-Asian hate crimes in 16 of American’s largest cities increased 149% in 2020, according to a study by California State University, San Bernardino. Washington state was ranked third among states with the most anti-Asian hate incidents, in a survey by Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic. Nearly 3,800 hate incidents nationwide occurred during the past twelve months, according to the non-profit group’s report.
The March 16 mass shooting spree at Atlanta spas that resulted in the deaths of eight people — six of them Asian women — and recent random assaults of elderly Asians walking down the street that were captured on video all have helped raise national consciousness of anti-Asian attacks.
Anti-Asian sentiment has grown in parts of the country following the start of the pandemic. It was inflamed by remarks made by former President Trump, who referred to COVID-19 — which originated in Wuhan, China — as the “Kung flu” and “China virus.” The disparaging rhetoric of the Trump administration has been viewed by many as a factor in promoting resentment against Asian Americans.
In Seattle, the King County prosecutor’s office reported that it filed 59 hate crimes filed in 2020, up from 39 in 2019 and 30 in 2018. Asian hate crimes alone increased by 33 percent from 2019 to 2020. The Seattle Police Department has a detective assigned full-time to investigate hate crimes.
Kitsap County is ‘calm’
Kitsap County, however, which has 6.4 percent of its population listed as Asians/Pacific Islanders, according to the census figures, appears to have averted the anti-Asian attacks. In Bremerton, police department records indicate there has actually been a decrease in the number of reported crimes that involve Asian victims, according to Bremerton Police Department Lt. Aaron Elton.
In 2019, there were 182 such crimes reported — or 1.98 percent of the total number of reported crimes. In 2020, the numbers of Bremerton crimes involving Asian victims dipped to 159 — or 1.7 percent of total crimes, Elton said.
In 2021, based on such crime statistics so far this year, the department predicts there will be 164 cases involving Asian victims, or 1.74 percent of local crimes, Elton added.
The percent of crimes involving Asian victims is far below the percentage of Asians in the area the Bremerton police department serves, he said. Based on the last census, Asians comprise 5.8 percent of the city.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office reports that there has been no significant change in the number of crimes in which an Asian was listed as the victim.
In reviewing records from 2017-2020, there has been no change or increase in incidents with Asian victims, according to Sgt. Ken Dickinson.
“Our numbers did not surprise me. I’m glad there has been no increase in our numbers that would suggest there is an issue. I think we live in a diverse and tolerant community that has been supportive of not only law enforcement, but each other,” Dickinson said.
“We would hope those types of things don’t rear their ugly heads in our county but should [that happen], we would handle them as appropriate. But right now, we have not seen anything.”
Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown also said his officers are not seeing an increase in crimes against Asians.
“We looked at the last two and a half years and there has not been an increase in Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders as victims,” Brown said.
“I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess as to why we are being successful. Every community is different. I hope it speaks to the community’s values and a sense of inclusion,” Brown said.
With local police agencies indicating no uptick in crimes targeting Asians, it is not surprising the criminal justice system is seeing the same trend.
“We checked our charging of hate crimes and have no indication of a rise in crimes against Asian Americans,” said Ione George, chief of staff of the Kitsap County prosecutor’s office.
“We don’t keep statistics in that regard. But anecdotally, I have no indication that would be true.”
While local police agencies are not seeing a rise in crimes against Asian Americans, the head of the Korean Women’s Association (KWA), a community service group that has an office in Bremerton, raised the possibility that some instances of Asian harassment are not coming to the attention of authorities because they are not being reported.
“I see it all the time. People are afraid to speak up,” KWA’s CEO Peter Ansara said.
“I don’t care what nationality you are or where you come from. A lot of times people turn the other cheek and fail to report something out of fear — fear of retaliation or fear of being rejected. Why? You have to look at language barriers, especially among immigrant communities or elders as a major reason many anti-Asian attacks go unreported,” Ansara said.
Ansara points to the low number of reported hate crimes cited in the Stop AAPI Hate study in relation to the number of Asians in the country as evidence that anti-Asian incidents are underreported.
“When anyone is personally attacked because of their identity, your safe place is to go someplace where you can talk about it in a way that you feel most comfortable. Even though people come to our country and acclimate, they still in many regards stay to themselves or their own culture again because of limited English proficiency.”
KWA serves 10,000 people annually in 14 counties in western Washington.
Dickinson of the sheriff’s office hopes there are not incidents taking place where an Asian victim is reluctant to report it to police.
“If people are afraid to come to us, I want to assuage their fears and encourage them to come to us. We are here to help people, especially if someone feels they are being targeted because of their race or ethnic background. We need to know about it,” Dickinson said.
While it appears Kitsap County has avoided an increase of racist attacks against Asian Americans, action is taking place nationally to better monitor such behavior. Two hate-related bills are being discussed in Congress, both meant to improve tracking of hate crimes.
Meanwhile, authorities encourage anyone who is a subject of a hate crime to contact local police. Also, if an Asian American/Pacific Islander has experienced a hate crime, they are asked to report it to stopaapihate.org.