"This type of discrimination and harassment is not something that happens out of nowhere in a pandemic, this is based in deep-seated miseducation and racism," said Carmelyn Malalis, the commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. "I know that people doubt that there is any such thing as anti-Asian discrimination, and people have said that to my face."
"People have to understand that this is not something that we are making up and they have to see racism for what it really is," she added. "They think that signaling out an entire people for a pandemic -- that’s not discrimination or racism."
Malalis said that claims of anti-Asian discrimination and harassment to her office skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic. From Feb. 1 through May 15, 2019, they received 11 such complaints. For the same time period this year, they have received 133 such complaints.
She added, "This is not something that is just in New York City, this is something that we are seeing all across the country."
Malalis said the educational element of the campaign is "crucial."
The city agency's $100,000 public education effort will put ads in local media, online and in community pharmacies and convenience stores and aims to encourage more reporting of cases of discrimination or harassment as well as educate the public.
The campaign aims to remind people that there is help and support available if you are experiencing or witnessing this type of discrimination, and encourages more people to report it so that it can be recorded and more action can be taken.
Malalis said she also hopes it serves to "remind people of the additional burdens this is placing on people at a time when people are already at unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety."
The campaign was developed based on community input, and a lot of thought has been put into how it can reach its targeted audience in the community, according to Malalis.
For example, this is the first time the city agency is using the platform WeChat, which is especially popular among Asian communities in the U.S. They are also posting ads and information in multiple languages, including Chinese and Korean.
"From small businesses losing customers to individuals being victims of verbal and physical assaults, the Asian American community has struggled with the economic, health, and social impacts of the pandemic since January," Wayne Ho, the president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, said in a statement.
"We are thankful that the New York City Commission on Human Rights will expand its efforts to protect the Asian American community and other marginalized New Yorkers by launching a public awareness campaign to address COVID-19 related harassment and discrimination," he added. "The Asian American community is diverse and will benefit from understanding how to report discrimination, including in health care settings."
The campaign is slated to run for two months, according to the commissioner's office. Malalis said she hopes the impacts of the campaign will live on, however, for much longer in the community.