At Esco, a pharmacy in Hell’s Kitchen, pepper spray sales increased eightfold in the month after the Atlanta spa shootings, in which a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were Asian or Asian-American women. Danny Dang, the owner of Esco, said that 90 percent of the customers buying the spray were Asian-American.
For Arthur Bramhandtam, a 36-year-old journalist, pepper spray is just one more thing on his check list when he leaves the apartment. “You have to bring your keys with you, you have to bring your wallet, you have to bring your iPhone — I have to bring my pepper spray now, it’s habitual,” he said.
Both Mr. Bramhandtam and Ms. Chen called the pepper spray a last resort, sharing concerns about using it effectively and escalating an already dangerous situation. To this end, they have adopted other precautions to minimize the possibility of having to use it.
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
- Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
- Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
- In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
Ms. Chen has taken to zipping around on a bicycle so she can get away from assailants quickly. Mr. Bramhandtam and his husband have discussed distraction techniques, especially in enclosed spaces, like subway cars.
And even though Hyesu Lee, a 42-year-old illustrator who lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, recently started carrying pepper spray, she said she was planning to sign up for Brazilian jujitsu classes. She feels more vulnerable because English is her second language and fears her accent might mark her as a target.
Two nonprofits, the Asian American Federation and the Center for Anti-Violence Education, have teamed up to provide self-defense training. Stressing the need for more grass roots community programs, the federation’s deputy director, Joo Han, added that she has also noticed more Asian-Americans buying guns. “When people feel like they don’t have alternatives, they feel like they have to defend themselves using extreme measures,” Ms. Han said. “The fear that advocates have, is that something is going to go wrong, and it’s going to end in greater violence.”