Crimes targeting Asian Americans make up nearly half of all New York City hate incidents so far in 2021. But recently passed legislation could help thwart biased attacks.
Over a year after it was originally introduced, Rep. Grace Meng’s (D-Flushing) bill to combat hate crimes finally passed the Senate April 22.
The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act would create a position at the Department of Justice to facilitate expedited review of Covid-19 hate crimes, encourage more reporting of incidents in multiple languages and empower communities to report incidents.
The DOJ “point person” would report the status of cases to Congress monthly until at least one year after the public health emergency has been lifted. Reports would include resources provided to complainants, investigative actions and information on the victim’s race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background as well as location of incident.
Additionally, the legislation would issue local and state guidance for law enforcement agencies to make hate crime data available online and to require municipalities to expand public education campaigns to combat prejudice. Guidance on best practices to reduce racially discriminatory language in describing the Covid-19 pandemic would also be issued.
The Senate also passed the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault and Threats to Equality Act as an amendment to further combat anti-Asian hate crimes by encouraging law enforcement prevention, training and education on hate crimes; establishing hate crime hotlines; and rehabilitating perpetrators of hate crimes through education and community service.
When Meng and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced the legislation in the early months of the pandemic last May, attacks targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were beginning to rise. By the end of 2020, crimes against the AAPI community had jumped 3,200 percent compared to 2019, according to NYPD data.
That number has continued to rise. Of the 101 hate crimes reported citywide in the first four months of the year, 47 have been against AAPI. Thirty-five of those incidents took place in March alone.
“I have heard from so many Asian Americans who tell me that they are scared to walk outside,” Meng said in a statement. “Families won’t let their kids go to the park or play outdoors. People are urging their parents and grandparents to stay inside, telling them that they’ll run their errands and deliver groceries to them. Being forced to endure this terror and fear is unconscionable and unacceptable. Everybody in our country deserves to feel safe, and that includes the Asian American community.”
Only one senator voted against the legislation. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — who allegedly encouraged Trump supporters to storm the Capitol in January — said the bill would give too much power to the federal government to define a new class of hate crime incidents.
The House is expected to take up Meng’s legislation in May, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Meng’s office said.
President Biden released a statement April 23 applauding the Senate for passing the bill and promised to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.