Protecting and Supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander New Yorkers in the Face of Historical and Worsening Violence

The last year has been incredibly difficult for our Asian American Pacific and Islander (AAPI) neighbors. The broad range of diverse communities that AAPI New Yorkers are a part of have experienced some of the highest rates of COVID deaths in our city, some of the longest periods of joblessness, and some of the greatest financial strains on their small businesses. And, as we’ve seen, hate crimes against AAPI communities in our city increased dramatically—an unthinkable 833% from 2019 to 2020—fueled by former President Trump and other leaders who looked to distract from their woefully inadequate management of the COVID crisis by taking advantage of people’s biases and misinformation. And these are just the hate crimes we’re aware of, since language access, community-police relations, and lack of representation in law enforcement can all be obstacles to reporting hate crimes.

The result of this violence, in addition to immediate pain and suffering, is that AAPI New Yorkers have become increasingly fearful for the lives, safety, and wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones. Going for a walk, taking the train, stopping by the local store, and speaking one’s native tongue in public are all associated with an even greater risk than simply from the pandemic, impacting the social and economic health of entire communities.

During these unprecedented times, AAPI New Yorkers have fought for the wellbeing of their neighbors and their city. They’ve put themselves at risk to provide medical care, open their doors, and share their meals. They’ve marched and protested in support of Black lives, just as they marched for civil rights decades ago. And yet, even before the pandemic, about 1 in 4 Asian American New Yorkers lived in poverty, while as of 2016, Asian-owned businesses in the City accounted for half of the net increase in paid employment. Our city owes a lot to its AAPI communities, and we continuously fail to acknowledge and support them.

Discrimination against AAPI communities is tragic, but not unfamiliar. They have been the victims of some of the darkest moments in our country’s history. And although much of the violence that’s taking place today is directed toward East-Asian- and Southeast-Asian-presenting New Yorkers, members of all AAPI communities have suffered throughout our history, from the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps to anti-South-Asian discrimination in the wake of 9/11. As we work to fight back against discrimination towards all AAPI communities, we must ensure that all of the diverse groups that comprise it—its different communities with distinct experiences, languages, cultures, and backgrounds—are acknowledged and provided the specific support they deserve.

Shaun is focused on presenting comprehensive, bold, thoughtful solutions to the challenges New Yorkers face every day, built in close collaboration with those most directly affected. He is committed not just to asking those impacted by tragedy what we should do, but to put forth suggestions, connect groups from different backgrounds, and facilitate collaboration between city government and our communities. To that end, and in response to the worsening threats to the health, safety, and livelihoods of AAPI New Yorkers, Shaun convened a group of community leaders from across AAPI and other communities to develop the solutions outlined below, and will continue to seek guidance and input as these ideas are expanded upon.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Eliminate violence and discrimination against AAPI communities

Perhaps the most visible consequence of the last year for our AAPI neighbors has been the graphic and heartbreaking increase in hate-fueled attacks, documented through a seemingly daily stream of videos of—often elderly—people being attacked just for walking down the street. The fear and otherness that these events have caused are unacceptable.

The first priority must be keeping AAPI New Yorkers safe everywhere in the city. A law enforcement response is warranted, and these are precisely the types of issues that the Donovan administration administration would like to help the police address more effectively by rethinking the tasks we ask them to take on overall. In our Criminal Justice plan, we discuss removing police from mental health crises, schools, and other situations not only because we believe there are better ways to address these challenges, but because doing so would also free up police time and resources to tackle issues like violent crime, gun violence, and hate crimes. Having worked in all levels of city and federal government over decades, Shaun has the experience to actually achieve this profound, even lifesaving reallocation of resources. 

Of course, we must make sure that law enforcement officers are at all times responding to situations properly, and this begins with ensuring that criminal justice institutions are accountable, credible, and racially-just. This was a key goal of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which Shaun participated in while in President Obama’s cabinet. Creating this culture of accountability and responsibility will be a priority for Shaun, the next police commissioner, and that commissioner’s team.

But we must also go further. The recently-established Office to Prevent Hate Crimes within the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) is a group that focuses specifically on tackling hate crimes in our city through holistic, community-focused approaches. We must expand funding for this office and, given the particular urgency of this issue, create a specifically designated team to focus on issues related to AAPI hate crimes. This group will be tasked with overseeing a cross-agency team with representatives from District Attorneys offices, the NYPD, the NYC Commission on Human Rights, and our mental health agencies to find ways not just to stop, but to prevent hate crimes against AAPI New Yorkers.

As mentioned above, the number of hate crimes we’re aware of is likely much lower than the number that have actually taken place in the last year, mostly due to an understandable lack of trust in law enforcement. The Donovan administration will make police-community relationships with AAPI communities a priority for the new Police Commissioner, including holding town halls, precinct engagements, and recruitment of a more representative force, in order to reduce underreporting of crimes in general and establish a greater sense of safety in our neighborhoods—and it is critical that these efforts be grounded on cultural responsiveness and a recognition of the personal histories here and abroad that may impact AAPI New Yorkers’ views of the police. President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing aimed to address issues of police-civilian relations in an environment of heightened tension, and Shaun is ready to bring that experience to City Hall.

It is particularly important that any law enforcement group tasked with preventing and investigating hate crimes meet with the communities they’re protecting and have strong relationships with local residents. As described in our Immigration Platform, we will prioritize the use of in-language communication for all community outreach, leverage appropriate communication channels, and partner with community leaders to ensure vital information reaches those who need it.

At the same time, the City must do its part to ensure that hate crimes are recognized and treated accordingly when they are reported. In the past year, the focus of the “hate” in many hate crimes reported was listed as “COVID” instead of being attributed to anti-Asian sentiment specifically. We cannot expect our Asian American brothers and sisters to feel comfortable speaking out when we refuse to listen.

We recognize the incredible work that community-based organizations are carrying out in our city’s AAPI communities, despite only receiving 1.5% of the city’s social services funding. It is critical that we pair law enforcement reform with efforts to close gaps in funding for community organizations and on-the-ground, community-led solutions to violence—such as safety officers, violence interrupters, and chaperones. Our Criminal Justice Platform puts a strong emphasis on community-led approaches to violence prevention across our city, and we intend to ensure that these are carried out in close collaboration with the organizations that have pioneered this work in our AAPI communities.

Additionally, our plan puts an emphasis on getting guns off our streets and closing the out-of-state gun pipeline through better use of law enforcement resources and community partnership. These should be tied to efforts outlined in our Health Platform to treat public safety and gun violence as health issues and properly invest in investigating and preventing them through this lens.

Keeping all of this in mind, we must not ignore the fact that anti-AAPI racism is a broader issue than specific attacks and deserves a broader response than law enforcement alone if we want to actually address pervasive environmental factors that contribute to violence and discrimination.

One space where we fall short is our classrooms. At the moment, we don’t do enough to think about how who our students learn with, what they learn, and who they learn from, can help prepare them to be more tolerant and respectful neighbors. In our Education Platform, we try to address these by prioritizing culturally responsive education, creating more school communities that are racially and culturally diverse so that our students grow up valuing diversity and develop community across racial and ethnic groups.

We must also recognize that the stories of Asian and Asian American mistreatment in the United States, as well as their contributions to our country, are not widely known, acknowledged, or taught. Issues ranging from the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment Camps to the role of Asian Americans in the Civil Rights movement should be incorporated more prominently into the Department of Education’s curriculum.

Similarly, having students of all backgrounds be taught by Asian American teachers and see Asian American principals will also help foster a greater understanding of and appreciation for diversity at an early age. This will be part of our focus to broadly increase the number of educators and school leaders who identify as people of color to at least 65% of all teachers (currently 44%) and 70% of our school leaders (currently 47%) over the next ten years. We plan to accomplish this through a combination of city programs and partnerships with institutions like CUNY.

And, we must recognize that social-emotional learning and mental health support through schools can be a valuable tool for supporting Asian American students right now and moving forward in response to the trauma and fear of anti-Asian hate. We will invest in these resources, including additional counselors and support staff and social-emotional learning training for educators, to ensure all students’ needs are met.

We should also look for ways to launch education campaigns for adults as well. To accomplish this and more broadly protect the rights of AAPI New Yorkers, we will bolster the New York City Commission on Human Rights and ensure that it is not neglecting discrimination against any one of our AAPI communities

And we recognize that visibility and representation matter—both from the perspective of ensuring we have a diverse set of voices making decisions as well as uplifting the great work that members of all of New York’s communities do for the entire city. To that end, Shaun will ensure that all levels of city government include diverse leadership, including with members of AAPI communities.

Provide greater access to health, stability, and opportunities for our AAPI communities

All New Yorkers should be protected from violence, but safety and security are also deeply tied to our opportunities to live healthy, active lives with stable homes and family-sustaining economic opportunity. For our AAPI neighbors, these basic rights have become even less stable over the last year. If we’re to take serious steps toward supporting the AAPI community, we need to address the broad range of issues they face and provide meaningful support. With the help of the city’s first Chief Equity Officer—described in our Racial Equity Platform—we will set real goals, coordinate effectively across agencies, and hold ourselves accountable to progressive achievement.

This begins with ensuring that communities are healthy. As outlined in our Health Platform, the City should take financial and organizational steps to make the COVID response more efficient and focus on equitable vaccine distribution. The latter has been a serious issue, with vaccines not effectively reaching the hardest hit communities. As we fight back against COVID, Asian American communities that have been seriously impacted by COVID must be prioritized in our vaccine distribution, and information on vaccines and how to access them must be made available in communities’ languages.

In the long-term our plans to expand health coverage and address environmental determinants of health—like access to fresh food, expanding Open Streets, and improving our climate—will most profoundly impact communities that have received the least investment historically, like many of our Asian American communities.

Housing in our city is also a consistent source of uncertainty and a powerful force in driving inequity. Our Housing Platform outlines a number of policies that we believe will help support AAPI communities in moments of struggle. 

For example, we will create an improved system of emergency rental assistance to help keep New Yorkers in their homes—committing $330 million from the City that we’ll save from reducing reliance on shelter and adding $500 million in matching funds from the state and $1 billion in funds from the federal government. We will also simplify the processes for receiving housing assistance to ensure this is made available to all who need it.

Our plan also outlines ways that we’ll promote homeownership for moderate income buyers through strategies like down payment assistance and counseling to ensure homeowners are aware of available assistance and protected from fraud.

Throughout his career in housing, Shaun was a champion of Fair Housing Protections, and as mayor he will continue working to make it easier for New Yorkes to find housing in any community without fear of prejudice. The Donovan administration will also tackle the city’s housing affordability crisis by seeking amending outdated zoning texts, legalizing existing below-grade units, and facilitating new development of such units.

We must also make real efforts to improve educational and professional opportunities for all New Yorkers, including those from AAPI communities, through acknowledgement and response to specific community needs. One such need is language accessibility. As outlined in our Immigration Platform, we will push to provide more services and communications in non-English languages based on the community. 

This is particularly important as part of our efforts to rebuild trust between families and our schools, as outlined in our Education Platform. We will establish better channels for family input and community engagement in our schools, utilizing multiple modes of communication and leveraging the languages spoken by families.

And, Shaun is committed to supporting economic opportunity for individuals and local businesses across our city, as outlined in our Economic Development Platform. As part of our economic recovery, Shaun has committed to creating 500,000 jobs for New Yorkers by the end of his first term and bolstering our long-term pipeline toward family-sustaining work with 10,000 new apprenticeship placements and at least one paid job, apprenticeship, or internship opportunity for every high school student by 2026. These and other efforts will be carried out with a focus on equity, ensuring that opportunity is made available in a way that is representative of our city’s diversity. 

Shaun’s vision for New York is anchored in supporting prospering neighborhoods, as displayed through his central policy proposal: 15 minute neighborhoods—through which every New Yorker will have access to a great public school, fresh food, a good park, rapid transportation, high quality primary care, and a chance to get ahead within 15 minute of their front door

A key focus for making this vision a reality is supporting thriving business districts across our city, and this must involve taking a more active role in supporting Asian-owned businesses. Shaun has made unequalled commitments to supporting Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), including through city contracting and procurement decisions, stronger inter-business support and mentorship networks, greater access to capital, and technical assistance for entrepreneurs. And recognizing that many Asian-owned businesses have historically faced issues with MWBE certification, we must ensure that the process for certification is clear and accessible, and conduct outreach to communities so businesses don’t miss out on critical benefits. 

But the City needs to do more than actively help businesses—it has to stop being such an obstacle as well. The Donovan administration has committed to redesigning the business licensure and regulation process with two goals in mind: a customer-focus so that these rules and procedures are legible and can be followed by everyone, and the enforcement of our regulations to preserve the important customer and employee protections without aiming to also earn revenue from fines.

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