A Portland woman was accosted in her car this week by a passer-by who broke her driver’s-side mirror with a kick.

She drove away and called the police, and the man, 47-year-old Troy Sprague of Portland, is facing a charge of criminal mischief while police continue to investigate a possible hate crime.

Normally, that would be the end of the story. We would shake our heads at another random act of violence on an American street and be glad that it hadn’t been more serious.

But this was serious, because, from what the police have reported, there was nothing random about it.

The woman, a mother with her children in the car, is Asian American, and her assailant indicated that was the reason he had picked her out for abuse when he reportedly told her to “Go back where you came from!”

That’s the kind of racist trope that’s been applied throughout history to all Asian Americans, who, in some eyes, will never really belong here.


That attitude was behind the grossly unfair Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the hate crimes against Indian and Pakistani immigrants following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have originated in China, provides a new excuse for those inclined to lash out against Asian Americans. Hate crime incidents tripled in 2020 with nearly 3,800 cases reported. On Tuesday, a white gunman attacked three spas in Atlanta, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent. He has told police that his motivation had not been racial, but the businesses he targeted and the identity of his victims makes that hard to believe.

It’s important for all of us to recognize how these attacks are connected, from the shootings in Atlanta to the street hassle in Portland. These atrocities, big and small, are committed by people who believe they have a community behind them that thinks what they think and approves of their actions.

Where would they get that idea? One reason could be the reckless statements that came from the highest levels of government last year as the Trump administration tried to shift the blame away from their own mishandling of the pandemic and toward China, even, preposterously, claiming that the virus was a biological weapon that Beijing had released from a lab.

Those statements sent a signal of approval to the relatively small number of people who would actually carry out violent acts. They were looking for permission and they got it.

It’s important that we send a different message. Whenever possible, prosecutors on the state and federal levels should charge hate crimes along with the underlying offenses, to let potential perpetrators of racial violence know that the community is not on their side.

People in authority should be very careful about the words they use. If leaders are reckless, the rest of us need to stand up and protest.

No middle ground exists on this issue. Any act of racist violence that we don’t reject will be received as an invitation for something worse.

Correction: This editorial was corrected at 9:08 Thursday to reflect that Troy Sprague was named as a suspect in a Portland incident, but had not been arrested.

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