Asian American lawmakers urge DOJ to give hate crimes law updates

Two Asian American lawmakers are asking the Department of Justice for updates to the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act signed four months ago.

U.S. lawmakers Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday urging the implementation of key provisions of the act that are “critical to its effectiveness.” The letter — which highlights the increased violence toward older Asians and the Atlanta-area spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent — follows a recent FBI report that showed the number of hate crimes in 2020 was the highest in more than a decade.

“We request your attention to these matters and periodic updates on your progress as you continue to implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and work to reduce the violence from xenophobia and hate in our country,” the letter stated.

A DOJ spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the letter.

Co-sponsored by Hirono and Meng, the legislation was signed May 20 by President Joe Biden after winning bipartisan support in Congress and directed the DOJ to expedite the review of Covid-19-related hate crimes that were reported to law enforcement agencies, to help them create ways to report such incidents online and to execute public outreach.

Though the Democratic lawmakers’ letter commended Garland’s efforts to combat hate crimes, it asked the DOJ to look further into establishing online reporting for both hate crimes and incidents. The letter referenced a recent analysis from reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate that revealed over 9,000 anti-Asian bias incidents over the course of roughly 15 months during the pandemic. Verbal harassment made up nearly two-thirds of the total incidents reported, while shunning made up almost 17 percent.

The lawmakers explained that though not all acts of discrimination would equate to a hate crime, “the impetus for these actions are the same—fear and xenophobia.”

“In order to meaningfully address the root causes of this bias and hostility, we need a clear and full picture of the scope of the problem,” the letter stated. “Data on hate crimes alone is insufficient.”

The letter also requested “the expansion of public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes” in different languages to encourage victims to come forward.

Hirono and Meng additionally called for the law to be applied to all hate crimes occurring during the coronavirus pandemic, citing antisemitic attacks in May following “an outbreak in violence between Israel and Hamas” and the deaths of at least 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people in 2020, “some as the result of anti-transgender bias.”

The letter ended by sharing fears that as the pandemic continues, frustration over the virus “will undoubtedly resurface.”

“We fear the impact this could have on perpetuating hate-based violence against people,” the letter stated. “Full implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will help stem the tide against further violence.”