Legislation that would fast-track Justice Department review of Covid-19-related hate crimes is now headed to the president’s desk.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Two months after a gunman killed six Asian American women at Atlanta-area massage parlors, the House voted 364-62 Tuesday to approve a bill commemorating victims of the shooting and expediting review of hate crimes related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long told police his March 16 attack was motivated by sex addiction, six of his eight victims were Asian American women. The shooting follows a slew of targeted attacks against Asian Americans amid over a year of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last month, the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act soared through the Senate in a near-unanimous vote — only Missouri Republican Josh Hawley voted against the bill. Tuesday’s passage of the legislation in the House means it’s on its way to President Joe Biden’s desk.
If Biden signs the bill, as he is expected to, it will set up a point person inside the Justice Department to expedite review of anti-Asian hate crimes.
While the measure would also reallocate state and local grant funds to help agencies respond to hate crimes more efficiently, Congresswoman Grace Meng said during a press conference on the bill Tuesday that no additional funds would be given to law enforcement through the legislation.
“This legislation does assume that law enforcement is currently underreporting these kinds of incidents and it makes it easy to ignore hate crimes all together,” the New York Democrat said. “So that’s why we believe that this response is necessary.”
Meng was joined Tuesday by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, including the body’s chairwoman, Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu of California.
Chu said the legislation was essential after a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. Asian Americans were victims of a reported 6,600 hate-related incidents between March 2020 and March 2021, up from 3,795 in the previous 12-month period, according to a report from Stop AAPI Hate.
Chu noted the bill would also include a provision from Virginia Democratic Congressman Don Beyer known as the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act, which would provide states with resources to create their own hate crime hotlines.
Pelosi noted the spotlight put onto American reckoning with racial discrimination through Biden’s meeting with Asian American and Pacific Islander lawmakers last month, where the president stressed that addressing violence against the community was of national importance.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, Beyer highlighted the underreporting of hate crimes nationally, saying law enforcement has no idea of the true number of attacks motivated by race.
About 2,400 police departments don’t report any hate crimes data to the FBI, Beyer noted, and of the 18,000 departments that do report such crimes, 86% reported none in 2020 — including 71 cities with populations of over 100,000 people.
“This would be great, if it were true,” Beyer said. “But no one really believes it.”
Congresswoman Doris Matsui, a California Democrat, said from the House floor Tuesday the vote was a reminder that America is capable of growth. She said the legislation celebrates diversity in the U.S. by condemning hate and discrimination.
“As we honor [Asian American and Pacific Islander] heritage month, we stand amiss a reckoning on racial justice and discrimination,” Matsui said. “We must be intentional about how we uplift our voices, how we listen and how we ensure dignity and respect through our communities. As the past few years have shown, hateful rhetoric can easily spiral into scapegoating and violence.”
Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the Georgia shooting was an attack “unambiguously rooted in hate,” but said hateful attacks against Asian Americans are not new in the U.S. She pointed to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented all immigration of Chinese laborers in the 1880s.
“At a time when we are all dealing with the hardships caused by the pandemic, Asian Americans have had to deal with additional pain, fear and loss brought on by the callous and careless rhetoric of opportunistic politicians and bigots,” Scanlon said.
Republican Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota said from the floor that she didn’t overtly object to the legislation receiving a vote, but she didn’t agree with the Democratic majority’s handling of the process to move it forward.
“The majority chose to circumvent the proscribed process for a resolution of this nature,” she said, “bypassing the usual committee markup altogether and sidestepping an opportunity for the majority to address concerns from the minority and allow the House to speak with one unified voice.”