By Charles Herrmann
The rise in hate crimes directed at local Asian Americans is cause for alarm. Asian Americans are daily harassed, spat upon, and even viciously assaulted. Our Seattle Police Department reports nine xenophobic attacks since March. While racial prejudice has always been an ugly fact of life, never have we witnessed such a dramatic increase in assaults upon Asian Americans locally. All Americans should unite in one voice condemning these despicable acts.
Our personal injury law firm, Herrmann Law Group, has served Asian communities for 70 years. We recently discovered the Chinese Information Service Center (“CISC”), a non-profit organization that assists all immigrants, was turned down for funding on its proposal to address hate crimes against Asian Americans. After discussions with Michael Itti, Executive Director of the CISC, we decided this would be one of our ways to give back to the communities we serve. We are fully funding the project.
Fear and ignorance spawn racial prejudice. Fear generated by COVID-19 escalates ignorance to hatred and even criminal behavior. Unfortunately, some politicians fan the flames of prejudice with political rhetoric, accusing the People’s Republic of China of causing the outbreak of coronavirus in the USA. Their words come across as though all Chinese people are to blame.
Widening the problem is the notion, long-held by some ignorant Americans, to lump Asians together. Thus, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos – all our Asian Americans – are likewise vulnerable to such attacks. Fear and ignorance cast wide shadows.
Regardless of whether the PRC made mistakes, it is certainly not the fault of our Asian Americans, Chinese or otherwise. Still, many Asian Americans now live in fear of reprisals. Their fears are not unfounded.
Our history reveals several ugly incidents. In 1885, Tacoma Mayor Jacob Weisbach led a mob of armed white men to expel all Chinese from Tacoma. A few white men did stand up for the Chinese. Most notably, Rev. W.D. McFarland was outspoken in his opposition. Ezra Meeker not only publicly opposed the mob, he hid a group of Chinese and later helped them escape to Seattle. He would later be elected the first mayor of Puyallup. This forceable expulsion quickly became known as the “Tacoma Method; ”the so-called civilized way to expel Chinese, so long as none of them were killed. It spread.
Three months later, Chinese in Seattle also faced an angry mob of white men. This time several influential white men came to their defense. Federal Judge Roger S. Greene ruled Chinese had a legal right to remain. Territorial Governor Watson Squire called out local militia, later backed up by federal troops sent by President Grover Cleveland. While many Chinese chose to depart on a ship bound for San Francisco, some remained. Still, it would be decades before Seattle would again enjoy a thriving Chinatown.
In September of 1907, a Bellingham mob forced East Indians to flee to Canada, but they couldn’t outrun racial hatred. Three days later, about 10,000 white members of a so-called “Asiatic Exclusion League” held a parade in Vancouver, B.C. that erupted in violent attacks upon China and Japan Towns.
In World War II, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were stripped of their property rights and forcibly incarcerated in internment camps. This time it was Chinese citizens who wore badges proclaiming they were not Japanese. Forty-six years would pass before the U.S. Government officially apologized.
Sadly, we cannot say, it could never happen here. It has. Several times. Our Herrmann Law Group calls upon all people of goodwill to take a stand. Find your own way to help lock down this sickness before it spreads further.
As Martin Luther King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” We are proud to fund CISC’s efforts to cast out dark fear and ignorance with the light of truth and justice.