Video: Man Hurls Racist Slurs at Asian Woman on Miami Bus
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Saturday March 20th: This story has been updated to include a response from Miami-Dade Transit.
On the evening of March 9th, a man and a woman were talking without a mask on a Miami-Dade Transit bus.
That made it uncomfortable for Lai, a resident of Chinese descent in Miami. She waited a few minutes and did not want to interrupt their conversation. Then she politely asked them to cover their faces. The woman, who wore a headscarf around her neck, refused, saying that she could not breathe with a mask on.
“I justified it by saying, ‘Ma’am, I worked about six hours and wore my mask all day and I think we need to be polite to each other,'” Lai told New Times. “My dad is 76 and I can’t afford to bring COVID home.”
The two chatting passengers, a white woman and a black man, still refused to put on their masks. So Lai asked the New Times to publish only her first name, fearing the latest wave of anti-Asian sentiment, the driver, to enforce the rule. Then things took a turn.
“The man started calling me a ‘crack’ and a ‘gook’ and all these racial slurs that I haven’t heard in a long time,” she says.
In shock, Lai grabbed her phone to record the incident, fearing it might get physical.
As the video starts, the man, who wore a disposable mask around his chin, said he had no problem with what Lai said but was upset that she was taping him.
Then he went up to the bus driver and asked to be dropped off at the next stop. He said something incomprehensible, and then Lai said to him, “Maybe you don’t have to be racist towards me.”
“I don’t give a fuck what you say man,” he replied. “I have daughters older than you. Mind your goddamn business, Chinese.
The exchange became heated and the man kept calling Lai names.
“I don’t care you people, man. Go to hell dog. This America, yep,” he continued.
When Lai replied that she was American, the man cursed her further and gave the camera a middle finger.
“Smile for the camera,” he said. “Smile for that crack.”
The insults continued. Before getting off the bus, he said to her, “Fuck your culture.”
During the almost three-minute exchange, none of the other passengers intervened or spoke up. Lai says she heard a person laugh.
Lai then reported the incident to Miami-Dade Transit and the Miami-Dade prosecutor. She says a prosecutor told her the incident was not a hate crime because no crime was committed under the law.
“There was no physical violence,” says Lai. “I am glad and happy that it was only verbal harassment because a lot has happened to many more vulnerable people.”
A prosecutor’s spokesman told the New Times that while Florida law allows prosecutors to impose higher penalties for crimes involving discrimination, the state has no separate hate crime charges.
Miami-Dade Transit has reviewed the video footage from the bus and is conducting an internal investigation that may include retraining of the bus driver.
“The safety and well-being of our passengers and employees are our top priority. We regret that all of our passengers have had negative experiences in our system,” said a statement from the transit department. (You can find Transit’s full explanation at the end of this post.)
The incident on the bus occurred amid a reported surge in anti-Asian crime in the United States. Most recently, a 21-year-old white man raged in three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, killing eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. Police said the shooter was a sex addict and said he wanted to get rid of his temptations. However, the killings came amid a surge in anti-Asian racism and the attacks that marked the pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit that tracks incidents of hate, discrimination, and violence against Asian-American and Pacific islanders in the United States, received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021.
“The number of hate incidents reported to our center is only a fraction of the actual hate incidents. However, it shows how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination and what types of discrimination they face,” it said Report.
According to the organization, 68 percent of those who made reports were verbally harassed, and 20 percent said others avoided them because of their race. Eleven percent said they had been physically attacked. 8 percent reported violations of civil rights, such as discrimination in the workplace and denial of service; and 6 percent said they were harassed online. Women reported such incidents twice as often as men, the report said.
The day after the Atlanta area shootings, an elderly Asian woman was attacked in San Francisco. She was able to defend herself and sent her attacker to the hospital. In an interview with CBS San Francisco, she said she was “very traumatized, very scared” and one of her eyes was still bleeding.
Before that, on February 3, someone slit the face of a 61-year-old Filipino-American man on a New York subway from ear to ear. Nobody helped him.
Asian-American communities have raised the alarm of an increase in violence and hatred against members of their communities since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It didn’t help that the previous US president demonized Asians, and especially the Chinese, throughout his tenure. Former President Donald Trump described the coronavirus as the “China virus” and “kung flu” in the past.
The Miami-based Asian Pacific American Bar Association in South Florida says such rhetoric only encouraged racist attitudes and violence.
“The use of divisive rhetoric such as ‘Chinese virus’ and ‘kung flu’ only serves to sharpen the perception of Asian-Americans as eternal foreigners and to encourage those who commit these acts,” the organization’s website said .
Lai says she was worried about telling her story.
“I don’t want retaliation,” she says. “Maybe it has to do with the Asian upbringing to be cautious, but I really want to raise awareness. I’ve only told a few people because I don’t want to rock the boat. There are people who experience situations that are more difficult.”
Lai says she is used to microaggression and verbal harassment from people who are prejudiced against Asian Americans. When she was in eighth grade in Miami, she attended high school and a home economics class. One of the students said to her: “Oh, you came to cook us fried rice.”
“Every single child laughed,” says Lai. “The teachers too.”
She says she hasn’t told her parents what happened on the bus, but they recently spoke to her about lying down and not going out unless she has to. You want her to stay home when she’s not at work.
“There is a lot of pain and fear that the Asian-American community is facing right now and it needs to be addressed,” says Lai. “Not with words, but with deeds.”
Lai organized in the community at election time. She believes that this type of organization can be included in her activism.
“Real activism and real work aren’t real if they’re not included [speaking out against] anti-Asian hatred and rhetoric, “she says.” It is not a competition as to which race suffers more or is worse. We need to include all marginalized people. After everything I’ve seen, we have to get up. We can’t just be spectators. We need to protect our friends, our families speak out to each other, and just be vigilant. “
“I think the problem with a lot of grassroots organizations is that they think their problem is very unique, but a lot of our movements are very intersectional,” she continues. “A lot of things like race and misogyny are not mutually exclusive. I think just creating a space for Asians to share their stories and opinions is a good place to start.”
Miami-Dade Transit Declaration, March 20, 2021:
The safety and well-being of our passengers and employees are our top priority. We regret that one of our passengers had negative experiences on our system.
The department was first made aware of this incident on March 10, 2021 and received the video files from the bus on March 19, 2021. An internal review will be carried out and appropriate action will be taken, including retraining.
Miami Dade operators receive conflict resolution and diversity training. Passengers are encouraged to report incidents immediately through the Transit Watch section of the GO Miami-Dade Transit app by reporting it to the bus operator or calling 911.
Miami-Dade Transit meets all state, state, and CDC-COVID-19 requirements, and passengers must wear masks while traveling on public transit.
“Hate speech has no place in our community, period. We must stand together to condemn all forms of bigotry and hatred as we face the rise in violence against Asian American citizens. We all have a role to play around Miami-Dade to guarantee.” is a place where everyone feels safe, welcome and accepted, “said Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Mayor.
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Alexi C. Cardona is an employee at Miami New Times. A native of Hialeah, she is happy to be home writing about Miami’s weirdness after working for the Naples Daily News for four years.