Why an Advocate Believes Reported Anti-Asian Hate Incidents Are Just 'Tip of the Iceberg'

The recent violent attacks against Asian Americans in the United States have sparked outrage around the world, with advocates warning that the reality is even worse than what has been reported.

According to a recent Harris poll, 75 percent of Asian Americans are fearful of increased hate and discrimination toward them. Connie Chung Joe, CEO of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, says that there have been at least 2,800 hate incidents targeting Asians nationwide in the past year but that those numbers may be deceptively low.

"You have to think that this is just the tip of the iceberg," Joe tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "A lot of people don't report it, especially if you come from immigrant communities or English is not your first language. There's a lot more that is going unnoticed."

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The hate incidents, which included the murder of 84-year-old Thai immigrant Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco, are the latest in a troubling spate of attacks and discrimination since the COVID-19 pandemic came to the United States last year.

RELATED: Asian Americans Fear for Their Safety Amid Increasing Racism, Hate Crimes Since Start of Pandemic

One attack against a 91-year-old man in Oakland's Chinatown district led actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu to offer a reward for information that could help find the suspect. (Police arrested a suspect days later.)

The attacks have left members of the community fearful for their safety, with some attacks happening in broad daylight.

Many advocates have blamed, in part, former president Donald Trump — who referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" and "Kung Flu" — for fueling the racism. 

RELATED: Man Charged After Series of Attacks on Elderly People in Oakland's Chinatown District

A report released last September by the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign, which surveyed nearly 1,000 Asian American young adults, found that eight out of 10 respondents expressed anger over the current anti-Asian hate in the United States. An analysis by Stop AAPI Hate, the youth campaign's parent organization, found that one in ten tweets concerning Asian Americans in the months before the 2020 presidential election contained racist or disparaging language.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order condemning the surge of racism toward the Asian American Pacific Islander community brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The emphasis by some political leaders on the geographic origin of the pandemic has "stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and [has] contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons," the executive order stated.

Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian­Pacific Policy and Planning Council, calls the current administration's recognition of racism "a promising step moving forward." But she says much more action is needed.

"A lot of work is going to be needed moving forward," Kulkarni says. "If each and every one of us gets involved, then we're going to be able to tackle this together."

To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice (advancingjustice-aajc.org) Stop the AAPI Hate (stopaapihate.org) National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (aapiern.org).

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