Did Covid-19 Lead to an Increase in Hate Crimes Toward Chinese People in London?

AuthorChelsea Gray,Kirstine Hansen
DOI10.1177/10439862211027994
Date01 November 2021
Publication Date01 November 2021
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/10439862211027994
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(4) 569 –588
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/10439862211027994
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Article
Did Covid-19 Lead to an
Increase in Hate Crimes
Toward Chinese People in
London?
Chelsea Gray1 and Kirstine Hansen2
Abstract
We examine whether Covid-19, which is widely believed to have originated in China,
negatively affected the environment for Chinese people in London leading to an
increase in hate crimes toward this group relative to others. With data from the
Metropolitan Police for the whole of the Metropolitan area of London, we use a
difference-in-differences approach to examine what happened to hate crimes against
Chinese people in London in the months before (October to December 2019) and
the months after the Covid-19 pandemic (January to March 2020) relative to other
ethnic groups, to other crimes, and to other time periods. Our methodology utilizes
the fact that Covid-19 came as an unexpected shock, which very quickly changed the
environment for crime, and did so differentially across ethnicities. We argue that this
shock is likely to negatively affect attitudes and behaviors toward Chinese people, but
has no effect on other ethnicities. Our results show that in the months after Covid-19,
there was an increase in hate crimes against Chinese people, but this increase was
not seen among the other ethnic groups, other non hate crimes, or in any other time
period. This leads us to conclude that Covid-19 led to an increase in hate crimes
against Chinese people in London. That Covid-19 changed behavior toward Chinese
people highlights an intrinsic link between Covid-19 and racism. Unfortunately, the rise
in hate crime that we identify adds to a growing list of ways in which ethnic minority
groups disproportionately suffered, and continue to do so, during the pandemic.
Keywords
Covid-19, hate crimes, victimization, Chinese, London
1Metropolitan Police, London, UK
2University College London, UK
Corresponding Author:
Kirstine Hansen, Social Research Institute, University College London, 55-59 Gordon Square, London
WC1H 0NU, UK.
Email: k.hansen@ucl.ac.uk
1027994CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211027994Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeGray and Hansen
research-article2021
570 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 37(4)
Introduction
Coronavirus disease (or Covid-19), although not officially named by the World Health
Organization (WHO) until February 2020, first appeared at the end of 2019, with a
number of people showing pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, China. The disease
quickly spread beyond China, so by the time the world knew it as coronavirus, the
disease had already spread to other countries. The World Health Organization inten-
tionally gave the virus a generic name that does not refer to a geographical area, an
individual, or group of people to avoid any stigmatization.1 The WHO made a con-
scious decision not to reference the disease by its virus strain, severe acute respiratory
syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), to avoid creating unnecessary fear of Asia
which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.2 Despite this, the fact that
the pandemic is widely believed, at the time of writing, to have originated in Wuhan,
China, and is commonly believed to be associated with Chinese wet markets, meant it
was not long before we started to see reports of Chinese people being discriminated
against, subject to abuse, and even violence in a number of different countries. In the
United Kingdom, the most well publicized is the case of Jonathan Mok a student from
Singapore who was attacked in Oxford Street, London, on February 24 by perpetrators
who shouted “coronavirus” at him (Busby & Gidda, 2020a; Duncan, 2020).3
In this article, we explore the impact of Covid-19 on hate crimes against Chinese
people on a much larger scale, using data from the Metropolitan Police for the whole
of the Metropolitan area of London. We use a difference-in-differences (D-in-D)
approach to examine what happened to hate crimes against Chinese people in London
before and after the Covid-19 pandemic relative to other ethnic groups, other crimes,
and other time periods. Using this methodology allows us better to establish a causal
link between the Covid-19 pandemic and hate crimes against Chinese people in
London.
Background
Hate crime is a crime directed at a particular group because of their membership of
that group. A lot of research has used this idea to empirically examine crimes against
the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community (Berrill & Herek,
1992), different racial or ethnic groups (Hanes & Machin, 2014), and religious groups
(Abu-Ras & Suarez, 2009; Ivandic et al., 2020) or to generate theories that focus on
hate crimes as violence directed toward marginalized groups (Chakraborti, 2010;
Perry, 2009; Walters, 2011). Prior to Covid-19, research has tended not to focus on
hate crimes against Chinese people who, as a group, have often been referred to as a
“model minorities” both in the United Kingdom (Gillborn, 2008) and United States
(Wong et al., 1998). Overall, the Chinese community in the United Kingdom has a
record of high academic achievement, and the second highest household income
among demographic groups, after British Indians (GOV.UK, 2020a, GOV.UK, 2020b).
However, it is clear that world events can influence views of, and attitudes toward,
racial groups (Sheridan & Gillett, 2005). Indeed, history has shown us that particular
events have led to the stigmatization or whole groups of nations, religions, ethnic,

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