Police in California are searching for vandals suspected of defacing and damaging statues at six Buddhist temples in the last month. The temples are all in the Little Saigon neighborhood of Santa Ana, some 40 kilometers southeast of Los Angeles. Police have deemed at least one of the cases of vandalism a hate crime.
Surveillance footage at Hu’o’ng Tich Buddhist Temple released by police shows two women defacing statues outside of the temple. The two women can be seen with spray paint, face masks, and gray sweatpants, with one wearing a blue jacket and the other a black sweatshirt.
Outside the temple, 15 stone Buddha and Bodhisattva statues were sprayed with black paint, and one staue had the word “Jesus” painted on its back.
“It’s beyond trespass. It’s beyond vandalism. It’s a hate crime targeted at the Vietnamese American Buddhist community, and we will not stand for that,” Thai Viet Phan, who grew up attending the temple, told reporters at a news conference held outside a Buddhist temple in nearby Westminster on Saturday. (Los Angeles Times)
According to police, the crimes are similar to five other incidents that have occurred over the past month, although they could not be certain that they were related.
In 2018, a similar vandalism spree took place in Santa Ana at five Buddhist temples and two other religious institutions. But, as a woman was arrested in the act of destroying statues at the time, police do not believe that the crimes are tied to the ones this year.
Police said they had increased their patrols of temples across the area and were coordinating efforts with neighboring police departments.
Venerable Vien Hay of Dieu Ngu Temple, which was vandalized earlier in the month, told reporters: “The damage to property is not what keeps us up at night or what bothers us the most, it’s the hate crime in itself and the negative impact to interfaith relations in our community.” (Los Angeles Times)
Orange County, where Santa Ana is located, just released its 2019 hate crimes report, showing a 24 per cent increase from 2018. Data is still being collected for 2020, but early reports reveal a disturbing rise in hate crimes aimed at Asian Americans in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
In June, a group called Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate tracked more than 2,100 anti-Asian hate incidents. “These are first-hand accounts where individuals are describing harrowing and traumatizing experiences, including what is being said to them when they’re being attacked,” said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the groups working with Stop AAPI Hate. (Voice of America)
In August, the New York Police Department (NYPD) created a special Asian Hate Crimes task force to address the startling spike in attacks on Asian Americans there.
“I’m mostly scared that because of our culture, many people won’t feel comfortable reporting these incidents,” said Garden Grove City council woman Diedre Nguyen. “But I want to get out the message that they should if they know anything.” (Los Angeles Times)
The authorities have requested that anyone with information about the suspects contact the Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.
Six Buddhist temples vandalized across Little Saigon this month (Los Angeles Times)
Police Search For 2 Women Who Defaced Buddhist Temple Statues in Santa Ana (NBC Los Angeles)
6 Buddhist temples vandalized in Orange County (AsAmNews)
US Watchdog Tracks Over 2,100 Anti-Asian Incidents (Voice of America)
NYPD creates Asian Hate Crimes Task Force after spike in verbal, physical assaults amid pandemic (USA Today)