The House voted Tuesday to approve a bill aimed at addressing hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, responding to a massive surge in attacks against Asian Americans since the pandemic began.
The bill, which passed on a bipartisan 364-62 vote, establishes a point person at the Justice Department who would review hate crime incidents reported to law enforcement agencies and provide more guidance to state and local entities to make it easier to report hate crimes.
The bill would also expand public education campaigns designed to increase awareness and allow the attorney general to provide grants to states for training on hate crimes data collection, reporting and response. It does not authorize any new money for the grants.
“This epidemic of anti-AAPI bigotry is a challenge to the conscience of our country, which demands bold, effective action,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said at a news conference Tuesday. “The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will strengthen our defenses to prevent, report and combat anti-AAPI violence.”
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), passed the Senate 94 to 1 last month and goes to the White House for President Biden’s signature next. He supports the bill, and could sign it as early as this week.
“It shows just how much the near daily tragedies of anti-Asian violence have shocked our nation into action,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) said at the news conference of Congress’ overwhelming approval. Chu serves as chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to vote on a resolution sponsored by Chu condemning the shootings of several people, mostly women of Asian descent, in spas in the Atlanta area March 16.
Many Americans have been shocked by publicized surveillance or cellphone video released in the last year of Asian Americans, many of them elderly, being accosted and beaten by strangers on the streets of U.S. cities, as well by reports of people spitting on, cursing at or refusing to serve Asian Americans and accusing them of causing the pandemic.
“Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19. And as a result, Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on and even set on fire and killed,” Meng said at the news conference.
“The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks.”
The group Stop AAPI Hate received reports of 6,603 incidents between March 2020 and March 2021. Of those, 40% occurred in California. Experts say that figure is likely an undercount.
Rep. Donald Beyer (D-Va.) called the grants to improve training on reporting hate crimes particularly important, noting that thousands of police departments either don’t report hate crime data to the FBI or report zero hate crimes each year.
"We've known there's been an undercount of hate crimes for years and years. How many hate crimes happen every year? The truth is we just have no idea. We know that many police departments don't report any data at all to the FBI," he said. "You can't manage something that you're not measuring."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.