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WASHINGTON – Lawmakers representing groups of minority members of Congress and top House Democratic leaders Friday denounced a "crisis point" of attacks against Asian Americans and called for action to prevent future attacks.
Speaking at a virtual press conference, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairperson Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said the Asian American community had "reached a crisis point that cannot be ignored" amid reports of a rise in violence and hate incidents against Asian Americans in the last several weeks.
Chu and other lawmakers said the attacks are part of a rise in anti-Asian American bias and xenophobia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a group tracking anti-Asian discrimination, said it had received more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from mid-March 2020 through the end of 2020.
Many of the lawmakers speaking Friday laid the blame at the feet of leaders like former President Donald Trump, who has blamed China for the pandemic and used derisive terms for the coronavirus. Advocates and Asian American lawmakers warned the language would inflame anti-Asian American sentiment.
"What started as dirty looks and verbal assaults" at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic had "escalated to physical attacks and violence against innocent Asian Americans," Chu said. "Just as many Asian Americans were preparing for the Lunar New Year over the past few weeks, we saw a surge in anti-Asian violence."
Chu cited several attacks against Asian Americans, including the killing of 84-year-old Thai American Vicha Ratanapakdee, and a recent increase in violence against senior citizens in Oakland, Calif.'s, Chinatown.
In response, Chu and the lawmakers called for Congress to take action to pass the "No Hate Act," which would provide grants to states to improve hate crime reporting. Chu said they would also be requesting a meeting with the Department of Justice to follow up on the implementation of President Joe Biden's executive order addressing xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans.
Chu hoped it would be a bipartisan request to the Department as they sought more details on enforcement actions and "proactive actions" to reach out to Asian American communities.
Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., said Trump's rhetoric was not the only factor in the increase in violence.
"There's a deeper level of bias and discrimination that is harbored within our country," he said. Kim said images like that of a 91-year-old shoved to the ground in Oakland Chinatown had been "seared" into his memory.
"That could have been my father or grandfather," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave brief remarks calling for the need to improve hate crime reporting, citing a recent incident in New York where a 52-year-old woman waiting in line at a bakery had been shoved into a metal newspaper box by a man, but it could not be determined whether the incident was a hate crime.
Asian American lawmakers noted the language barrier among immigrants could make it difficult for crimes to be reported. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., noted she had talked to people about incidents that could be classified as hate incidents, but the victims had limited English capabilities and "they don't necessarily know what som has been saying."
Other lawmakers from what is known as the "Tri-Caucus," or the group of three caucuses in Congress representing lawmakers of Asian, Black, and Hispanic descent or those with shared interests, stressed the need for solidarity.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., who represents part of Los Angeles including its Chinatown, read aloud an email from an Asian American constituent who had recently been robbed during the Lunar New Year, and said "what happens to anybody in our community happens to the rest of us."
And Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a former chairwoman of the Black Caucus, called for concrete actions, telling reporters, "as an African American woman, this is an issue that we know so well in the Black community. It's an issue we cannot just turn our back to and just say ... we stand in support."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lawmakers denounce 'crisis point' of anti-Asian American violence