Following the ongoing nationwide epidemic of anti-Asian violence, lawmakers in Massachusetts have introduced new legislation aimed at updating and strengthening laws surrounding hate crimes in the state.
Steve LeBlanc of the Associated Press has reported that “a national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes — including a recent mass shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent — is prompting state lawmakers to push a bill they say would expand and clarify hate crime laws in Massachusetts.”
“Among other steps, the bill would combine the state’s two existing hate crime laws and add gender and immigration status as protected classes when determining if a hate crime has been committed,” LeBlanc reported.
“The rise in anti-Asian hate incidents did not come out of nowhere. There has been a long and troubling history of racism and discrimination,” said Democrat Rep. Tram Nguyen, a co-sponsor of the bill and the first Vietnamese American elected to the Massachusetts House. “Ask any Asian person and I’m sure most of us will have stories to tell you about being ridiculed for the way we look, whether it’s our slanted eyes or our small stature, for our accents for those of us who are newer immigrants. Even for those of us who have been in this country for generations, there’s this general assumption that we’re perpetual foreigners.”
Nguyen explained the pandemic intensified the historical and cyclical anti-Asian stigma in America, but also noted that “hate crimes are not limited to those of Asian descent and are meant to terrorize not just individuals but entire communities.”
Sen. Adam Hinds, the other co-sponsor of the bill, added that the proposed legislation “is about saying loudly and clearly that violent bigotry is not acceptable” — not merely “creating new laws,” but rather “combining and improving hate crimes already on the books.” Hinds also noted that the bill does not step on First Amendment rights and would not create new mandatory minimum sentences.
In addition to adding gender and immigration status to existing hate-crime-protected classes, the bill also aims to improve sentencing guidelines for hate crimes, strengthen penalties for repeat offenders and “clarify that bias has to be a contributing factor — but not the only factor — for the hate crimes statute to kick in.”
In what she hopes could serve as a model for other states in the country, Massachusetts state Attorney General Maura Healey said the new legislation would aim to “send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated.”
“What we have seen happening in our communities is unacceptable, can’t be tolerated, and is really corrosive to the kind of communities that we’re trying to aspire to be in this country,” she said.