COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
On May 20 President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. This bill, which saw major bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives, and the Senate, directs the Department of Justice (DOJ), to assign a point person to expedite the investigation of COVID-19 related hate crimes, typically involving Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act also calls for the establishment of a website that can be used to report hate crimes.
This piece of legislation, introduced by Rep. Grace Ming and Rep. Maxine Hirono, was in response to a major uptick in hate crimes against AAPI people. A study released by California State University San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism showed a 164% increase in hate crimes against Asians in the first quarter of 2021 from the first quarter of 2020 in 16 of the country’s largest cities and counties. In the study, researchers identified 95 anti-Asian crimes in 2021, compared to only 36 reported in 2020.
Even before this study, the United Nations released a report back in August of 2020 detailing an “alarming rise” in anti-Asian crime.
The organization Stop AAPI Hate documented 6,603 anti-Asian hate crimes from March of 2020 to March of 2021, and it is believed that the actual number is likely much higher because of a lack of reporting. The breakdown showed verbal harassment and shunning made up the largest portion of the hate crimes, at a whopping 83.3% of the reported incidents, physical assault made up 12.6%, civil rights violations made up 10.3%, and online harassment made up 7.3% of total incidents.
Violence against AAPI has been displayed in the news lately far more frequently. Most have heard of the upsetting and bigoted action that have taken place including: a woman getting struck in the head with an umbrella, a woman getting hit with a hammer for refusing to take off her mask, a teen being harassed and punched in a park, among many other atrocious crimes.
Seeing a vote of 94-1 in the Senate and a vote of 364-62 in the House, it’s clear that Congress saw the desperate need for change to be made to protect AAPI communities.
While this piece of legislation brings hope for a better America, there are still underlying issues we need to tackle. Vice President Kamala Harris said in her introduction of Biden signing the bill “Here's the truth: Racism exists in America. Xenophobia exists in America, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia — it all exists. And so the work to address injustice wherever it exists remains the work ahead,” signaling that there would be more work to be had in the near future.
The Anti COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed on May 20.
The bill assigns a point person to investigate COVID-19 related hate crimes in the DOJ and calls for the establishment of a website to report hate crimes.
This legislation was made in response to an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the U.S.
While this is a good first step, we have a lot of work to do to end prejudice in our country.