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Asian American lawmakers reintroduce legislation to combat Covid-related hate crimes

“The bill also provides resources for communities to come together and fight intolerance and hate. This is no less than victims deserve,” Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a statement.
Image: Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In America
A pedestrian walks down a street in Chinatown, New York, on April 21.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Lawmakers announced Thursday that they are reintroducing hate crime legislation in an effort to mitigate the ongoing pandemic racism Asian Americans have long been confronting.

The legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, would equip law enforcement with added support to address hate crimes related to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a statement provided to NBC Asian America, Hirono said the act would address the “surge” in violence directed toward the Asian American community.

“We’ve seen the horrifying consequences of racist language as AAPI communities across our country experience hate crimes and violence related to the pandemic,” Hirono said. “The bill also provides resources for communities to come together and fight intolerance and hate. This is no less than victims deserve.”

The legislation would dedicate an official at the Department of Justice to review and prioritize hate crimes reported to federal, state and local law enforcement. It also would issue guidance for state and local law enforcement to establish online reporting of hate crimes and incidents in multiple languages, expand public education campaigns that are both culturally competent and linguistically appropriate, as well as collect data on hate crimes.

In addition to law enforcement support, the act would call on the secretary of health and human services, the Covid–19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations to make a coordinated effort in issuing guidance and best practices to mitigate the discriminatory and racist rhetoric being used to describe the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a report released earlier this month, hate crimes decreased overall last year, but those targeting Asian Americans increased by nearly 150 percent in major cities. New York City and Los Angeles observed particularly large surges. Researchers noted the initial spike in anti-Asian hate crimes occurred in March and April last year, coinciding with a rise in Covid-19 cases and ongoing negative associations of Asian Americans with the virus.

Meng previously introduced similar hate crime legislation last May, proposing a DOJ point person to provide oversight of Covid-19-related hate crimes. She explained that she updated the provisions of this reintroduced act based on the community’s “need for education and empowerment.” It follows the memorandum that President Joe Biden signed in January that denounced the discrimination directed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

The lawmaker said the act would build on the memorandum, which issues guidance on how the Justice Department should respond to the heightened number of anti-Asian bias incidents.

Meng called Biden’s attitudes toward the Covid-19 racism in comparison to the previous administration’s as “night and day.” The lawmaker — who also spearheaded a House resolution last year that demanded the condemnation of all forms of racism and scapegoating and called on public officials to denounce any anti-Asian sentiment — has been outspoken in calling out how dismissive both former President Donald Trump and certain members of the Republican Party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, have been toward both the violence and concerns about the racist “China virus” rhetoric.

During last year's debate on the floor over the resolution, McCarthy, who has been frequently criticized for potentially endangering Asian Americans by using “China virus” rhetoric, opposed the measure, saying, "I will promise you this: There is no kitchen in America that thinks this is the priority.”

“President Biden has demonstrated his leadership on this issue when he unveiled the presidential memorandum to address anti-Asian hate that has spiked since the outbreak of Covid-19, as well as actions to promote racial equity in Covid-19 response,” Meng said. “These acts of hate and discrimination have been nonstop since over a year ago. … I look forward to continue working closely with President Biden on addressing the meteoric rise of anti-Asian hate and other issues.”