Lawmakers to introduce anti-hate crime legislation amid rise in anti-Asian hate and violence

WASHINGTON – It has been over a year since Asian American lawmakers first sounded the alarm on a potential rise in anti-Asian hate and violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks discrimination against Asian and Pacific Island Americans, said it received more than 3,000 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian American harassment or attacks compared to roughly 100 incidents annually in previous years.

In the beginning, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said it was “important” to condemn the hate incidents, even if it was “symbolic.” But as the incidents continued to rise, “it’s time to take it to the next level to make sure that we are using all the tools in our toolbox to help curb this problem,” she said. 

That includes legislation.

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 27, 2020, in Washington. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

Democratic lawmakers said they would introduce a new bill addressing a rise in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. The bill, a revised version of legislation introduced but not passed in the last Congress, would create a new position at the Department of Justice to facilitate the review of hate crimes and provide oversight of hate crimes related to COVID-19.

Meng, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the House, told USA TODAY the bill would make it “easier for us to have a more complete and accurate picture” of hate crimes and incidents.

Among other provisions, it would issue guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies to establish their own hate crime reporting systems and education campaigns about hate crimes, provided in multiple languages.

Asian Americans are on edge after a recent wave of racist assaults and robberies targeting their communities. More than 3,000 incidents have been reported to a California-based reporting center, since the pandemic began in March 2020. (March 2)

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“We want to continue to not only raise awareness, but also to try to help find real long-term solutions,” Meng said. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is spearheading the Senate’s version of the legislation. 

“Prosecution is really important, but I think it’s also important for leaders to say … this is unacceptable and to condemn this kind of targeting of (Asian American Pacific Islanders) and in fact the targeting of any minority group to this kind of assaults and attacks,” she said. 

She told USA TODAY the bill would likely pass the Democratic-controlled House, but “we shall see” whether it could gain traction in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would need to join all Democrats to block a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster. 

A man holds a portrait of late Vichar Ratanapakdee, left, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, who was violently shoved to the ground in a deadly attack in San Francisco, during a community rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence and racist attitudes, in response to the string of violent racist attacks against Asians during the pandemic, held at Los Angeles Historic Park near the Chinatown district in Los Angeles, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)

Meng believes there is “more momentum” this year to pass the legislation and is confident President Joe Biden’s administration would be a better partner on addressing anti-Asian American hate incidents than the Trump administration.

Lawmakers and advocates say the derisive language used to describe the pandemic by some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, helped inflame the anti-Asian American sentiment. 

“This is an administration that actually cares about this and does not go around making things worse by calling” the coronavirus derisive names, Hirono said. 

Biden’s administration has issued executive orders addressing the hate incidents, and lawmakers from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, a group of lawmakers representing the interests of Asian Americans, have requested a meeting with the administration to discuss the orders’ implementation, though the meeting has not yet been scheduled. 

Vicha Ratanapakdee was died in San Francisco after an attack his family said was racially motivated. (Photo: Courtesy of Eric Lawson)

Advocates have sounded the alarm on recent violent attacks against Asian Americans, including the killing of 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee, and a recent increase in violence against senior citizens across the country. 

Although Asian American communities had been told to report hate incidents in the past, Meng said recent events made it clear to her “obviously, that’s not happening. And it’s not happening at an accurate enough level.” 

NYC: Hate crime charges in stabbing, teen harassed

Democratic New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang says the increase in anti-Asian violence in the city should be taken "very seriously." (March 5)

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