For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with two local police chiefs and three Department of Justice officials about how they are addressing hate crimes and bias-related incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), many of which appear to involve misplaced blame for the COVID-19 pandemic.



Oakland, CA Chief LeRonne Armstrong

For us in Oakland, it starts off with the difference between hate incidents and hate crimes. We have seen several incidents where Asian-Americans have been the victims of crime, and I think the media and others have made the connection to hate crimes. But we have been very challenged with meeting the legal standard of proving these crimes to have been motivated by hate.

For a hate crime, we’re looking for the crime to be specifically motivated by hate. We’re looking for something that shows us this person was targeted because of their race, such as statements made during the commission of the crime that would indicate it was based on hate because of the person’s race, gender, or sexuality. The challenge is meeting that standard. Then there are incidents where an individual said a racist slur or comment towards somebody, but it wasn’t a violation of the law. People call law enforcement and say they were the victim of a hate crime, but the person was just called a name, or a derogatory statement was made. Although certainly inappropriate, it’s not necessarily a hate crime.

Also, if someone of a different race robs someone who is Asian, that doesn’t mean they were targeted because of their race. There’s a robbery or theft, but we may not be able to connect that to an actual hate crime.

But we want to make sure we’re looking at these cases, and our investigators are analyzing the underlying motivation. If it is a hate crime, we want to be able to call it out and bring forth that sentencing enhancement.

We have been partnering with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to create a special response team. I’ve also created a Chinatown liaison officer, who is an officer who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin, to share information in our Asian communities.

The best way for us to reassure the Asian-American community that we’ve heard their voices and concerns is for us to be on the ground. I shifted resources into those neighborhoods, increased the number of visible officers walking in the area, and I’ve also had my liaison officer meeting with all the businesses and merchants in the area. We’re trying to take this opportunity to provide more information about how they can connect with the community council in their area. These councils meet with our officers on a monthly basis to share information, and they can serve as a point of contact that people can reach out to, if they aren’t comfortable calling into the 9-1-1 system. I think it’s been helpful so far, and we’ve seen some positive indications that crime is going down in those areas.


Bellevue, WA Chief Steve Mylett

So far this year, we haven’t had any reports of hate crimes or bias-related incidents where the Asian community was targeted in Bellevue. We’re seeing it in Seattle and elsewhere.

But I’m convinced that there are incidents in Bellevue that aren’t being reported. Like all chiefs, I strongly encourage the reporting of hate crimes and bias-related incidents.

What we’ve been doing is a lot of community outreach. It’s difficult during COVID. This time last year, when COVID was first in the news, we started seeing a major spike in hate crimes and bias-related incidents. Members of the Asian community specifically were arming themselves, and when we looked into the reason, it was because of fear. They felt fear that people would be coming at them.

We did a community outreach event live on YouTube. We had hundreds of people call in and ask questions. We defined what a hate crime is and what a bias-related incident is. We encouraged reporting, and we encouraged neighbors to look out for each other.

Last month we did another large Zoom community event targeting the AAPI community specifically. I was pleased with what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear firsthand experiences in Bellevue of hate and bias-related incidents. One of my employees is looped into the Chinese community specifically and the AAPI community at large through WeChat and other social media groups. If it’s happening and being talked about, my employee would know about it and report it to me. I checked with her again this morning, and we’re not hearing it.

Another thing that appears to be different compared to this time last year is that we don’t have, at the highest levels, stoking of hate and bigoted language fueling the fire. Derogatory names were attached to the coronavirus, and it was just stoking the flames. I think the absence of that now, at least in Bellevue, is also contributing to us not seeing the amount of bias and bigoted behavior we did last year. It was charged rhetoric, and I’m not seeing that at the highest levels of our government now.



Associate Deputy Attorney General Iris Lan, U.S. Department of Justice

Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin and the Department deeply believe that no one in America should fear violence because of who they are, what they look like, or what part of the world they or their families came from. Mr. Carlin recently held a listening session with more than a dozen AAPI groups as part of the Department’s continuing efforts to deter hate crimes and other unlawful acts against the AAPI community.

In addition to that, Mr. Carlin met with key U.S. Attorneys in districts throughout the country with significant AAPI populations, including the Northern District of California, which covers San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland; the Central District of California, which covers Los Angeles; the Southern District of Texas, which covers Houston; the Northern District of Illinois, which covers Chicago; and the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan. They and all the U.S. Attorneys have been placing a really high priority on this issue.

The Department and all our component agencies are bringing all of our tools to bear in supporting AAPI communities as we look to address the rise in hate and bias incidents occurring around the country. We have two of our components, the FBI and the Community Relations Service, on the line today to describe a subset of some of the things the Department is doing.


Section Chief David Scott, FBI Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section

The civil rights program is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities. Each FBI field office has a full-time civil rights coordinator who works closely with law enforcement and community partners to prevent and address hate crimes and other civil rights violations.

Just as local law enforcement agencies and the media are reporting increases in hate incidents and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, we are also seeing an increase in federal hate crimes investigations in the FBI and DOJ.

There is a significant discrepancy in the reporting of hate incidents versus those that meet the definition of a hate crime. The crime in “hate crime” is often a violent or property crime, such as assault, murder, vandalism, arson, or threats to commit such crimes. For the FBI to initiate a hate crime investigation, there must be a credible allegation that a hate crime has occurred. The FBI must then prove that 1) there was an act of violence or threat of violence; 2) the perpetrator acted willfully; and 3) the perpetrator’s actions were motivated by a bias towards the victim.

We’re working to reduce hate crimes in three ways.

  • We’re coordinating with our state and local law enforcement partners on hate crimes investigations, even when no federal charges are being pursued.
  • We’re meeting with at-risk communities to build relationships, share information, and have open dialogue.
  • And we’re prioritizing training sessions for local law enforcement and community groups.

We’re also working to get the word out to all law enforcement agencies that the reporting of hate crimes and hate incidents through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is critical. We have to reduce the significant disparity between hate crimes that actually occur and those that are reported to law enforcement. It’s critical to report hate crimes, not only to show support and get help for the victims, but also to send a clear message that the community will not tolerate these kinds of crimes.

The FBI plans to host regional conferences across the U.S. this year to bring together law enforcement agencies and community organizations to discuss hate crimes and other civil rights matters.

We’ve also provided every field office with new technology to facilitate outreach to community organizations and law enforcement partners. All 56 of our field offices are actively engaged with community organizations representing Asian-Americans and other minorities in their area. We want to ensure that nothing, including COVID, gets in the way of that outreach.


Conciliation Specialist Justin Lock, DOJ Community Relations Service

The Community Relations Service (CRS) serves as America’s peacemaker for the U.S. Department of Justice by responding to community conflicts arising out of differences in race, color, and national origin. CRS helps communities mediate disputes, provides conflict resolution training, and helps communities enhance their capacity to independently prevent and resolve future conflicts.

With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October 2009, CRS is further authorized to assist communities to prevent and respond to alleged violent hate crimes committed on the basis of actual or perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

Our professional mediators work directly with state and local officials, community-based organization, and law enforcement on a voluntary and cost-free basis.

All CRS staff are required by law to conduct their activities in confidence without publicity and are prohibited from disclosing confidential information. CRS is not a law enforcement authority. It does not impose resolutions, investigate, fact-find, prosecute, or assign blame or fault in situations. Rather, our services are intended to help communities resolve problems and work through challenging conflicts.

We are doing a few things to specifically address the issue of anti-AAPI bias and hate crimes. The first is the Community Relations Service’s Dialogue on Race program. This program convenes participants from as many parts of the community as possible to exchange information face to face or, in this current environment, virtually, share personal stories and experiences, honestly express perspectives to clarify viewpoints, and, most importantly, to develop solutions that address these community concerns.

CRS is supporting communities to prevent and respond to COVID-19-related incidents of bias and hate crimes, including those impacting the AAPI community. During times of social distancing, the CRS team is available virtually and by phone to serve communities in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Additionally, we offer a Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes Forum. This is a half-day session that can be provided virtually. It provides community members and law enforcement with information related to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as state and local hate crimes laws. The program engages local and federal law enforcement, district attorneys, civil rights organizations, and community organizations in discussion and information-sharing on methods to combat and respond to bias incidents and hate crimes.

Finally, we offer services around rumor control, in which CRS is assisting in establishing rumor control measures following community incidents, protests, law enforcement investigations, jury verdicts, and other developments that could contribute to or elevate racial tension or the potential for violent hate crimes, including those against the AAPI communities. We offer technical assistance to control inflammatory rumors with accurate and credible information, in collaboration with community partners, local law enforcement, and state and local governments.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.