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Senator Tammy Duckworth says a "deeper investigation" is needed to determine whether the shooting that left eight people dead was racially motivated.
- Illinois Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth joins us now from Capitol Hill. Good morning to you Senator.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Good morning.
- You just heard Mayor Garcetti talk about what's happening in his city. I want to ask you as well about what happened this week in Atlanta. The FBI director, Chris Wray, says that local investigators, they've got the lead. But from where he sits, so far it doesn't look like these shootings were racially motivated. From where you sit, is he wrong?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well from where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially motivated. It looks racially motivated to me, but I'm not a police officer. I'm not investigating the crimes.
What I have done, though, is I have actually sent a letter to Director Wray and to Attorney General Garland asking for a deeper investigation into crimes that involve Asian-Americans to see how many crimes have actually been underreported as hate crimes. We know the crimes against Asian-Americans that have been categorized as hate crimes have increased by over 150% in our nation's major cities. That's over 3,800 additional crimes last year. But we also know that many of these crimes go underreported as hate crimes and are just classify it as a mugging or harassment or vandalism, when really they were targeted at Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular.
- Earlier this month when Director Wray appeared before Congress, he was pressed on what he was doing. He said that the FBI is already trying to address this with training, liaison events. He said they put out intelligence reports about what's happening in the Asian community. What more does federal law enforcement need to be doing? And don't they already have a civil rights division dealing with these kind of crimes?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, they do, but the problem is the crimes often are not reported as a hate crime or race-motivated crime at the scene with the local police officers because people just don't see Asian-Americans as a minority group that gets attacked on a regular basis. Now, if you're Asian-American like me and my family, you know it happens on a regular basis.
But oftentimes, these crimes just get reported in some other way. Or when you say, hey, I think it was race motivated, the authorities don't pay attention to that and just reclassify them. And that is what I've asked Director Wray and Attorney General Garland to take a deeper dive into. Let's relook at all of these crimes involving Asian-Americans, and let's see how bad is this underreporting.
- I want to ask you about another dimension to this issue that I thought was raised in an interesting framing by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. They have a front page story saying, "before the killing spree in that city, Georgia let an industry that exploits Asian women flourish." Given the national conversation around commodification and exploitation of Asian women in this country, I wonder what you think of this idea. Were those women in Atlanta essentially being exploited and victimized twice?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well I think that any time that you're part of a minority group, especially one with reduced power, you are much more susceptible to being exploited, and that's why I want us to take a deeper look at the situation here. Asian women in particular have been commoditized. Asian women in particular have this stereotype against them that they are weak and submissive, and they've been over-sexualized.
And so what happens is that they become the victims of crimes far more often. These increases in hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the last year, 2/3 of them were against Asian women. We really have to deal with this situation, but we need the real data as to what is going on here so we can fix it.
- The president on Friday endorsed a bill I know you are a co-sponsor of called the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. All the co-sponsors are Democrats. Do you have any pledges from Republicans to sign on?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: We don't at this time, and it's astonishing to me. The House passed a bill that actually was a resolution against hate crimes against Asian-Americans tied to COVID. And we have actually Republicans who voted against it. And Mitch McConnell at the time, because Republicans were in charge, wouldn't even let us vote on it in the Senate. Where can you be that you would not be willing to vote on a bill that would condemn violence against any group of Americans?
- We will look for an answer to that question. On immigration, I want to ask you, President Obama, as you recall, was heavily criticized. He was even called the deporter in chief. President Biden now is coming under heavy criticism for this crisis at the US border. From where you sit, does the administration need to send a stronger message to discourage migrants from making the trek to the US?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well let's make it clear. We have a situation at the border and that is as a result of four years of failed policies, inhumane policies, and a systematic dismantling of the asylum system by Donald Trump. We all saw what Donald Trump can do in terms of damages in a single day on January 6. And he's had four years to basically undermine our nation's immigration system.
- But they're coming now.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Right. But you know what? It's as a result of him dismantling the asylum system and the pathways for seeking asylum that used to exist. I know that President Biden is going to be committed to repairing that system that Donald Trump broke in order to make it not only work better but also to make it humane so that these kids and other migrants can actually apply for asylum in their home countries without coming here. Donald Trump stopped aid to the northern triangle countries. He did everything he could to dismantle the system, which led to the crisis we're in now.
- Quickly, Secretary of Defense Austin was in Afghanistan this morning. In about 40 days, US troops are scheduled to be pulled out. Do you think President Biden should leave a residual force, and how big and for how long?
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well I think that Secretary Austin is there taking a look on the ground, and I would listen to the military commanders. I've long said what we need to do is to eliminate the old AUMF, the authorization for use of military force, vote on a new one but listen to the military commanders on the ground along with our allies.
So I'm really anxiously waiting to hear back from Secretary Austin what he finds in Afghanistan and what his recommendations are going to be. Again, I want American troops to come home, but I also want to fight the bad guys over there instead of allowing them to come here.
- Senator Duckworth, thank you for your time this morning.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Thank you.