White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said “rhetoric” about the origins of COVID-19 is driving crimes against Asians — in her first briefing since a Chinese-American woman was followed into her Manhattan apartment and stabbed to death.
Psaki’s focus on the pandemic’s Chinese origin came as New York and national headlines were still focused on the gruesome Sunday slaying of Christina Yuna Lee, 35, allegedly by homeless man Assamad Nash, 25, in what prosecutors call a “sexually motivated” crime.
And it came in response to a reporter who cited a “339-percent” uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes under President Biden’s tenure. In New York City, hate crimes against Asians spiked 343 percent in 2021, according to NYPD statistics.
Still, Psaki pegged it to “rhetoric” about the pandemic’s origins.
“We’ve seen this rise unfortunately because of the hate-filled rhetoric and language around the origins of the pandemic, and that is something that Asian-Americans across the country have been feeling,” Psaki said.
Psaki had been asked specifically about Korean-American US Olympian Chloe Kim saying she feared for her safety in the US. But her remarks followed a high-profile series of recent crimes, including Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, being fatally shoved in front of a subway train last month in Times Square. Accused killer Martial Simon, 61, whose family says he is mentally ill, exclaimed that he shoved Go because he’s “God.”
Last week, the NYPD arrested Kevin Douglas, 40, for a vicious on-camera assault of Thai model Bew Jirajariyawetch, 23, on a Manhattan train platform in November.
The COVID-19 pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, and has killed more than 922,000 Americans. The US intelligence community said in August that the virus most likely either emerged naturally in animals or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Biden said almost nothing publicly about China refusing to allow international investigation of the origins of the virus until his second solo White House press conference, where he claimed last month that he pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to be transparent during a 3 1/2-hour virtual summit in November — despite Psaki previously giving reporters the exact opposite impression.
Hate crimes against Asians increased in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, but they remained rare in raw numbers — with 316 against Asian-American people and 15 targeting businesses in 2020, according to the FBI, versus 202 targeting people and 12 targeting businesses in 2019.
Many high-profile crimes are broadly perceived to be linked to the victims’ race without definitive proof, complicating tabulations.
The issue of anti-Asian hate crimes gained widespread public attention in March 2021 following a shooting spree at three Atlanta-area massage parlors that left eight dead, including six Asian and Asian-American women.
The accused Atlanta shooter, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, told police he committed the crimes because he is addicted to sex and wanted to remove a “temptation,” but his motive remains a matter of public debate.
Congressly overwhelmingly passed a bill in May to promote the reporting of hate crimes.
Biden’s own handling of Asian-American issues has come under fire.
Biden last year awkwardly hailed Masters golf champion Hideki Matsuyama, 29, as a “Japanese boy” during a press conference at the Rose Garden with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Two months after Biden took office, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) threatened to block Biden’s nominees in protest of West Wing aide Jen O’Malley Dillon making an “incredibly insulting” remark brushing off concern about a lack of prominent Asian nominees. Dillon allegedly said critics should be satisfied with Vice President Kamala Harris’ role. Harris’ mother was born in India.
Duckworth later backed down when the White House agreed to appoint an in-house Asian-American liaison officer, Erika Moritsuguto serve as a deputy assistant to Biden.