The COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act was approved by the House of Representatives on May 18 by a vote of 364-62. The bill, which was designed to address the increase in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, had already been approved by the Senate last month. The legislation now moves to President Biden, who has already promised swift signing and approval.
Barbara Sprunt of NPR has reported that the legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Grace Meng of New York and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, “instructs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19.”
“The bill also would expand efforts to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels, including providing online reporting resources that are available in multiple languages,” Sprunt reported.
In a speech to the House prior to the vote, Meng reflected on how the Asian American community had faced an “additional pandemic: the virus of hate and bigotry” over the past year.
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a necessary step to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination. We cannot mend what we do not measure,” Meng said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also championed the bill, saying it was an “important legislation to address a grave and growing crisis.”
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Bill will strengthen our defenses against any anti-AAPI violence, speeding our response to hate crime, supporting state and local governments as they improve reporting, and ensuring that they have crime information and [all the resources are] more accessible to the Asian American communities,” Pelosi said.
In the House, the 62 Representatives who voted against the measure were all Republicans. In the Senate, only one individual voted against the bill: Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she was overjoyed by the “almost unheard of showing of bipartisan support” from the Senate.
“It shows just how much the near-daily tragedies of anti-Asian violence have shocked our nation into action,” Chu said.
Speaking after the bill’s passage, Meng reached out to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to assure them that after a year of “pain and struggle,” Congress was finally taking action on their behalf.
“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19, and as a result, Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on and even set on fire and killed,” Meng told reporters. “The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian Americans are tired of living in fear and being frightened about their kids or elderly parents going outside.”
Chu reiterated the feeling, noting the “heavy toll” the ongoing spike in anti-Asian hate crimes has had on the AAPI community over the past few months — particularly its effect on mental health.
“What is it like to open up the newspaper every day and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked and even killed?” she asked. “You start to think, well, will I be next?”
As we have previously reported, according to the organization Stop AAPI Hate, there has been a serious spike in the number of hate crimes against Asian individuals over the past year. The group documented more than 6,600 incidents of hate crimes between March 2020 to March 2021, with projections suggesting those numbers may actually be much, much higher.
“The passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act demonstrates that the federal government recognizes the devastating impact of the pandemic-related racism and discrimination that the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is facing,” Stop AAPI Hate said in a statement provided to DiversityInc. “However, because the Act centers criminal law enforcement agencies in its solutions, it will not address the overwhelming majority of incidents reported to our site, which are not hate crimes, but serious hate incidents. We are encouraged that the federal government has listened to the advice of community-based organizations and has committed to partnering with them further.”
President Biden has vowed to sign the COVID–19 Hate Crimes Act immediately once it reaches his desk, hoping to at least partially stem the ongoing wave of violence against AAPI individuals in the United States.