▶ Watch Video: NYPD task force chief: “Common denominator” in attacks on Asian Americans is mental illness

New York City has seen a significant spike in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes during the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year, continuing the trend of a rise in reported attacks that was seen in 2020. But NYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force commander Tommy Ng says such attacks are “absolutely not new.”

More cases, however, are being reported due in part to social media and newer generations, he said.

“This is absolutely not new, but what makes Asian Americans be more vocal these days is we have more second or third generation Asian Americans being born in the United States, that we are part of America,” Inspector Ng told CBSN anchor Vladimir Duthiers. “We speak the language, we cultivate the American ways of life.”

He said authorities are “absolutely” seeing an increased level of crime reporting among Asian American communities, and that Asian Americans today are “more proactive” in documenting cases.

Sixteen of the largest U.S. cities saw a 164% increase in anti-Asian hate crime reports to police in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. New York City had the largest increase in hate crimes and incidents, with 42 incidents reported between January and May, marking a 223% increase from the same period last year.

Last year also saw a surge in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, which has been attributed in part to rhetoric linking Asian Americans to the coronavirus pandemic.

While many viral anti-Asian hate incidents have been perpetrated by Black people, police data shows that race does not play a “major role” in reported attacks, said Ng. Instead, the “common denominator” among perpetrators — “the bottom line” — is mental illness, something he says has been exasperated by the stress and pressure of the pandemic.

“With the downturn of the financial situations, not just in New York City but everywhere in the United States, we do see and experience an increase in those types of situations,” Ng said. “It is more difficult for police officers to do their job, definitely yes, and what we have to do is ensure that every part of New York City is being protected.”

In New York City, the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force, which launched late last year, is using outreach to combat the rising number of Asian American hate crimes and incidents in all five boroughs, according to Ng.

Ng said that while people are “still afraid” a hate incident might happen to them, new strategies being employed by the NYPD have helped the Asian American community become more willing to report crimes.

“I think that with all the outreach the police department has been doing, that Asian Americans are more aware of contacting the police and coming forward and have become cooperative in coming forward to the police department and reporting crimes, not just hate crimes, but any crimes,” Ng said.

Members of the task force, a mix of detectives and investigators, have all been handpicked, according to Ng. A majority are foreign born, and many speak  several languages— all in an effort to connect to the communities they’re serving.

The task force has also employed several strategies, including more undercover and plainclothes officers posted strategically around the city, speaking directly one-on-one with community members, conducting anti-hate seminars and workshops, and connecting victims of hate crimes or general incidents with aid, like the New York City Human Rights commission.

Ng, who was born and raised in Hong Kong before coming to the United States at 16 years old, said that the rise in reports of Asian American hate crimes and incidents is a “firsthand experience” for him, as he and his family and friends experienced similar sentiments when they moved to America.