Two Asian American lawmakers are asking the Justice Department for updates on the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act signed four months ago.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the implementation of key provisions of the act that are "critical to its effectiveness." The letter — which highlights the increased violence toward older Asians and the Atlanta-area spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent — follows a recent FBI report that showed that the number of hate crimes last year was the highest in more than a decade.
"We request your attention to these matters and periodic updates on your progress as you continue to implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and work to reduce the violence from xenophobia and hate in our country," the letter stated.
A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the letter.
President Joe Biden signed the legislation, co-sponsored by Hirono and Meng, on May 20 after it win bipartisan support in Congress. It directed the Justice Department to expedite the review of Covid-19-related hate crimes that were reported to law enforcement agencies to help them create ways to report such incidents online and to conduct public outreach.
Although the lawmakers' letter commended Garland's efforts to combat hate crimes, it asked the Justice Department to look further into establishing online reporting for hate crimes and other hate incidents. The letter referred to a recent analysis from the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate that revealed over 9,000 anti-Asian bias incidents over about 15 months during the coronavirus pandemic. Verbal harassment accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total reported incidents; shunning made up almost 17 percent.
The lawmakers explained that although not all acts of discrimination would equate to hate crimes, "the impetus for these actions are the same—fear and xenophobia."
"In order to meaningfully address the root causes of this bias and hostility, we need a clear and full picture of the scope of the problem," the letter stated. "Data on hate crimes alone is insufficient."
The letter also requested "the expansion of public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes" in different languages to encourage victims to come forward.
Hirono and Meng also called for the law to be applied to all hate crimes occurring during the pandemic, citing antisemitic attacks in May after "an outbreak in violence between Israel and Hamas" and the deaths of at least 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people last year, "some as the result of anti-transgender bias."
The letter ended by sharing fears that as the pandemic continues, frustration over the virus "will undoubtedly resurface."
"We fear the impact this could have on perpetuating hate-based violence against people," the letter stated. "Full implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will help stem the tide against further violence."