'I'm terrified': Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 74% in New Jersey last year

The Sussex County Democratic Committee stands with the Asian American community and condemns the unjust discrimination and violence directed toward them.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the state and the country last year, the number of anti-Asian bias incidents — which includes shunning, racial slurs and physical attacks — went up by nearly 75% within the past year, data released by the New Jersey State Police show.

COVID-19's origin in Wuhan, China, has caused a significant backlash against Asian Americans across the United States for the past year and New Jersey has seen its fair share of discrimination toward Asian Americans, said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, an Asian American Democrat representing New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District. 

Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic did not start this new trend of discrimination toward the Asian American community, but rather gave people an "excuse" to target them and highlights the long history of bigotry against them.

"I believe those statistics are being under-reported and that discrimination against Asian Americans in our country existed far before COVID-19 and it will last after COVID-19," Kim said. 

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Anti-Asian bias reports, which involve Asian or Pacific Islander individuals, jumped 74%, from 39 in 2019 to 68 in 2020 across the state, according to preliminary data compiled from the New Jersey State Police. However, these statistics are based off what is only reported to police, as experts and officials believe there are more cases that go underreported. 

"I am terrified," said Nina Gao, president of the Asian American Alliance of South Jersey and a Shanghai native who lives in Cherry Hill. "I think a lot of my friends feel the same way, you know, is this safe anymore? Yes, a lot of these attacks you see happening in the city, but if it doesn't stop, is it going to happen tomorrow or a year down the road in the suburbs?"

Here is a breakdown of reported bias incidents against Asian Americans by county across New Jersey:

  • Bergen: 14
  • Burlington: 1
  • Camden: 2
  • Essex: 1
  • Gloucester: 1
  • Hudson: 4
  • Mercer: 7
  • Middlesex: 14
  • Monmouth: 10
  • Morris: 1
  • Passaic: 2
  • Somerset: 5
  • Sussex: 1
  • Union: 3
  • Warren: 1

Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Hunterdon, Ocean, and Salem counties did not see any incidents of bias against Asian Americans over the past year, according to New Jersey State Police. The report did not specify type of incident by county.

Asian Americans reside in all 21 counties and in every part of the state. There are approximately 960,000 Asian American residents, or 10% of the total New Jersey population.

The number of reported incidents seem to track by population: In Middlesex County, about 25% of the total county population is Asian American as of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Bergen has an Asian population of 16%, while Hudson, Somerset, Mercer and Monmouth have populations of more than 10%.

Across New Jersey, bias incidents among all groups — not just Asian American and Pacific Islanders — involving aggravated assault rose by 18% from 2019 to 2020. Incidents involving a tactic of intimidation rose by 7.5%, while terroristic threats skyrocketed by more than 103% from 32 reports in 2019 to 65 made in 2020.

The State Police report also detailed an increase in incidents targeting Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities, showing that incidents of harassment and discrimination rose for the second straight year. In 2020, New Jersey recorded 1,441 bias incidents, which was the highest total ever recorded and a 45% increase from 2019's total. 

But nothing stood out more than incidents involving harassment, as New Jersey saw an increase of more than 72% in this category — 421 in 2019 and then up to 726 incidents in 2020. Additionally, "other" forms of bias incidents, which includes desecration of venerated objects, significantly rose by more than 278%, from 34 to 129 this past year.

 For all race groups across New Jersey, simple assaults fell by about 4%, while bias incidents involving destruction, damage or vandalism to one's property fell by 3.5%, according to the annual report.


Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate (Stop AAPI Hate), a nonprofit organization in California, recorded 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the United States — a 26% increase from the prior year's 2,808 incidents. Some 42% of the incidents were reported by Chinese Americans.

New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were all in the top 10 for most reported incidents, the group's data showed. Between March 19, 2020, through Feb. 28 of this year, shows that more than 500 incidents took place so far.

Below is a breakdown of the top 10 states with highest number of bias incidents against Asian Americans over the past year, according to Stop AAPI Hate's report:

  • California: 1,691
  • New York: 517
  • Washington: 158
  • Texas: 103
  • Pennsylvania: 97
  • Massachusetts: 96
  • Illinois: 92
  • Florida: 59
  • New Jersey: 59
  • Maryland: 51


The most common types of discrimination involved harassment and shunning, which made up 68%   and 20.5% of the group's reports.

Physical assault was the third-most common category, making up 11% of the total incidents across the country. A quarter of the incidents took place on public streets, while a third of the incidents occurred at businesses.

"I think the (COVID-19) pandemic and, the discrimination that we've seen, has been pouring gasoline on the fire over the last year," Kim said. "It's disturbing and I truly also believe that these numbers do not reflect the totality of what is going on." 

COVID-19's impact

Asian history experts say the issue of harassment is nothing new for the Asian community, as a majority have dealt with discrimination for decades. But there have been several high-profile incidents, such as the recent shootings in Atlanta-area spas on March 16, in which six of the eight victims were Asian women, that have played a large part in highlighting the issue. 

Last March, a New York City man attacked a 65-year-old Asian American woman in broad daylight and hurled anti-Asian insults at her as she walked down a midtown Manhattan street, according to New York City police.

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The woman was later hospitalized with serious injuries after the attacker punched, kicked and stomped on her as staff and bystanders did not intervene the incident. NYPD called the incident "a hate crime assault," which later prompted a large outcry amongst the Asian community for justice and change.

Earlier this month, Jonathan Russo, 27, was charged with multiple counts of assault and harassment, both as a hate crime, in connection with pushing a 64-year-old Asian American woman on a sidewalk and knocking her down in New York, assaulting a 32-year-old Asian American woman by grabbing her hair, and shoving a 77-year-old Asian American man to the ground.

Richard Chen, 40, a web producer and a board member for the Asian American Action Fund, said anti-Asian discrimination is nothing new across the tristate area, saying that even though he would often see people staring at him when the pandemic first started, he believes many others have had it far worse in years past.


"Discrimination toward (Asians) has always been there, especially in New York," said Chen, a resident from Branchburg in Somerset County. "Sure, we usually get those typical stares because of where the virus started, but those who have been harassed or assaulted because of it is completely unacceptable and is likely going to continue to be honest."

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Jennifer Ho, a professor of Asian American studies at University Colorado of Boulder and the director of Humanities and Arts, said this topic is the story of the moment,  and that the pandemic has only given people another reason to attack this community. 

Ho emphasized the recent violent attacks at Asian American seniors and women throughout the first few months of this year, specifically videos that have surfaced across the mainstream media, has likely led to the increase of reports recorded by the Stop AAPI Hate nonprofit organization.

"I want to say that with the violence we're seeing now and with all the racism and the videos that came out last year against African Americans, the reports are increasing because of the national attention it is receiving," Ho said. "Prior to this year, when was the last time you honestly saw this much attention on racism against Asian Americans?"

Additionally, the report released by the AAPI anti-hate organization also showed that Asian women made up 68% of the total incidents, compared with men, who made up 29% of all incidents recorded.

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In the Stop AAPI Hate report, victims of anti-Asian harassment sent in their stories to the organization, which included one Filipino American woman reporting that while in a Washington, D.C., metro station with her boyfriend, an unknown man shouted at her "Chinese b----," then proceeded to cough at the couple and physically threaten them.

It didn't begin with the pandemic

In 1871 in Los Angeles, around 500 white and Hispanic people murdered 19 Chinese residents in the so-called Chinese massacre — a buildup of a growing anti-Asian culture that played a part in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned the immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the nation's first set of immigration laws to ban individuals based on race.

Japan's bombing on Pearl Harbor in 1941 resulted in the internment of most Japanese Americans across the West Coast to barracks and camps in remote areas during World War II, with the federal government deeming them a possibly disloyal security risk. Over 127,000 Japanese Americans were placed in camps in the United States during the war and over 1,800 died in the camps.

Jason Oliver-Chang, a professor at the University of Connecticut whose research focuses on Asian American studies and American immigration history, said Asian Americans were used as a racial  wedge after World War II and the Vietnam War.

"Japanese Americans were used as a racial wedge in the '40s and '50s, as with an American allied victory in World War II, there was then a need to claim victory at home as well," Oliver-Chang said. "People at this time were arguing to fight fascism abroad and fascism at home and in some respects, people looked to the recovery of Japanese Americans from the incarceration experience during World War II, as evidence of the United States overcoming the color line."

Oliver-Chang said even though the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s played a major step in overcoming the racial barriers in the United States, Asian American voices still did not receive as much attention.

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"I think it helps to explain some of the absence of Asian American voices during these time periods because Asian Americans were drawing from the harsh treatment and atrocities happening in Japan, Vietnam and in Southeast Asia, to inform others of their own treatment in the United States," Oliver-Chang said.

Congressman Kim, the son of Korean immigrants, said he has also had his fair share of experiences with racism and discrimination, but is more concerned about how much longer this issue will continue.

"There are a number of instances that really stick out, but I think what Asian Americans often feel is just this perpetual and constant and rhythmic erosion of belonging that takes its toll," Kim said. "I think it worries me and others, not just about how we get through this moment and are we safe, but where are we heading as a country in this direction."

What's being done

Experts and advocates agree the rise in Asian American attacks in 2020 became more prevalent after President Donald Trump began to routinely refer to the COVID-19 pandemic as the "China virus." 

In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order condemning the recent attacks against Asian Americans — and without naming them, criticized former federal officials who repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" or the "Kung Flu." Many believe he was criticizing Trump and members of his administration. 

The order calls for better data collection about hateful incidents, along with mandating federal agencies to fight "racism, xenophobia, and intolerance" directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“The federal government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin,” Biden said in his order. “Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment and hate crimes against AAPI persons.”

Experts and advocates agree addressing the root cause of the harassment and violence requires more education, more awareness of racism — not just focusing on one community but for all — and building political power for all minorities.

Last March, a roundtable was hosted by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Gov. Phil Murphy, Kim and other high-ranking officials to discuss bias and hate crimes amid the shooting in Atlanta and attacks surfacing across the country.

The Asian American Alliance in South Jersey will be hosting several marches and rallies in the coming weeks to raise awareness, share stories and help others understand the violence and discrimination is not just happening in the cities, but also in the suburbs.

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In North Jersey, hundreds of Asian Americans recently took to populated streets to spread awareness of hate against Asians, shedding cultural norms. Similar to the marches and rallies held by other activists this past year, protestors were seen carrying posters and signs that read "Stop Asian Hate" and "Hate is a Virus."

Last Thursday, the Senate passed with overwhelming bipartisan support an anti-hate crime bill, which is known as the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, to address the drastic increase of violence and discrimination directed at Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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We cannot let this slip by, we have to seize the moment when people are paying attention to make the kinds of changes that will outlast the public attention," Oliver-Chang said. "This is the moment when we need to build political power across Asian American communities, so that our communities know what the states are for our invisibility and if they don't speak up or report on attacks, we risk having this history repeated on us."

Here are a few tips you can do to help fight discrimination against Asian Americans:

  • Report any hate crimes to your local police or send tips to the FBI.
  • Submit tips to Stop AAPI's Hate's reporting center at www.stopaapihate.org/reportingincident, which has tracked thousands of incidents across the United States.
  • You can also go to Asian American Advancing Justice site at www.advancingjustice-aajc.org, where you have the opportunity to share your experience.


Reporter Mary Chao contributed to this report.

Joshua Chung is the 9-5 breaking news and weather reporter. A lifelong Jersey Shore resident, he is a recent graduate of Michigan State University. Contact him at [email protected], 917-703-9373 or on Twitter @Joshchunggg


Source: Anti-Asian hate crimes, bias in New Jersey rose almost 75% in 2020 (njherald.com)