Anti-Asian hate crimes bill passes US Congress

Judy Chu

The House of Representatives has approved legislation aimed at tackling the rising statistics of hate crimes against Asians during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, which the House passed on Tuesday in a 364-62 vote, will quicken the review of hate crimes at the justice department and make grants available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification and reporting of incidents driven by bias, which often go underreported.

The Act, which will be signed by Joe Biden in the coming days, is named after Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese American who was killed by a racist neighbour in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2016, and Heather Heyer, who died in a vehicle attack during a march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Both attacks were initially not categorised as hate crimes but would be under the new law.

In the past year, the US police have seen a surge in racially motivated crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders including a shooting in March in Georgia that killed six women of Asian descent.

Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat of California, said it’s painful for many to “open up the newspaper every day and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked and even killed”.

Meanwhile, some activists, including organisations representing gay and transgender Asian Americans, say the legislation is misguided. More than 100 groups have signed a statement opposing the bill for relying too heavily on law enforcement while providing too little funding to address the underlying issues driving a rise in hate crimes.

Jason Wu, co-chair of GAPIMNY-Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, said:

“We have had hate crimes laws since 1968, it’s been expanded over and over again, and this new legislation is more of the same."

The monitoring group, Stop AAPI Hate, which reported 3,795 incidents nationwide between March 2020 and February 2021, said the bill was a step forward but lamented that it centres on a law enforcement approach over community-led reform.

“Because the act centres on criminal law enforcement agencies in its solutions, it will not address the overwhelming majority of incidents reported to our site which are not hate crimes, but serious hate incidents,” the group said in a statement.