A bill to address the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic passed the House Tuesday afternoon, and will now head to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it later this week.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), requires the Justice Department to assign a point person to expeditiously review hate crimes and reports of hate crimes in order to come up with better ways for people to report them and raise awareness of the issue.
“Today, Congress sends a powerful, united message that we stand in solidarity with the AAPI community as we confront an epidemic of racism and intolerance,” Hirono said Tuesday in a tweet.
The legislation also requires DOJ to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to come up with best practices for mitigating racist language describing the pandemic. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters notoriously fanned the flames of anti-Asian hatred by referring to COVID-19 as the “Kung Flu” and “the China virus.”
The bill passed the House by a 364-62 vote. It passed in the Senate in late April.
Biden has already expressed support for the legislation, saying that “far too many Asian Americans have woken up each morning increasingly fearful for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.”
“They have been scapegoated, harassed, and assaulted; some have even been killed,” Biden said in a statement last month. “It has been over a year of living in fear for their lives, as acts of anti-Asian bias and violence have accelerated from coast to coast — an unconscionable burden our fellow Americans have been forced to bear, even as so many Asian Americans serve their communities and our nation tirelessly on the front lines of the pandemic.”
In the Senate, support for the bill was nearly unanimous. The only nay vote came from Sen. Josh Hawley, the pro-Trump Missouri Republican who said the bill was “too broad” and gave the government too much “open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents.”
Hirono introduced the legislation after a man gunned down eight people at three separate massage spas in northern Georgia in March. The dead included six women of Asian descent. Police swiftly arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long en route to Florida; authorities have said he may have planned to kill more people there.
The attack brought attention to the uptick in violence against Asian Americans seen over the course of the pandemic, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, where a number of doctors tried to sound alarm bells at considerable personal risk in the earliest days of the crisis.
Some law enforcement authorities claimed the Georgia killings were not racially motivated, but that the suspect had had a “bad day” and a possible sex addiction ― a claim that prompted more public outcry. Activists say anti-Asian sentiment has historically been ignored or sidelined in the U.S.
Over the past year, America’s largest cities have witnessed a 150% rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, according to March research from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
Many attacks have targeted older people of Asian descent, such as the 61-year-old man who was critically injured in New York City last month when he was shoved to the ground and repeatedly kicked. Earlier this month, two Asian women, ages 63 and 84, were stabbed as they waited for a bus in downtown San Francisco.
The violence has sparked anti-racism protests specifically addressing concerns from Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the country. Activists have also established a campaign, Stop AAPI Hate, to bring attention to the problem.
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