The law, passed Tuesday in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority, calls on the Department of Justice to appoint a person responsible for investigating such incidents during the pandemic. The legislation states that recurrent cases of this type pose “a serious national problem.”
At a ceremony at the White House, President Joe Biden signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act on Thursday, which was passed by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday in the House of Representatives, which seeks to combat and reduce attacks on the Asian-American population.
The event was opened by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of Asian origin on the maternal side, who recalled how the initiative to tackle the problem was presented when she was still in the Senate last year.
“I have seen how people united against hatred can strengthen our country. This law brings us closer to stopping hatred not only for Asian-Americans but for all Americans,” said Harris, who recalled how she tested for the persistence of the problem in her time as a prosecutor in California.
In introducing Biden, Harris praised the president’s effort to fight against hatred and discrimination.
“We need to unite as a people, a nation, an America,” Biden began, recalling one of his election campaign slogans.
Biden called racism and discrimination the “horrible poison” that damages society and highlighted the bipartisanship with which the law was passed.
The law, originally called the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, had 364 votes in favor and 62 against, all of the latter from the Republican Party. The initiative had received almost unanimous senate support in April, receiving 94 votes for and only one against Republican Josh Hawley.
Hate incidents against Asian-Americans have increased dramatically for more than a year due to coronavirus.
At the beginning of the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump came to call covid-19 the “Chinese virus,” even though doctors and health organizations call for not using geographical names to baptize diseases to prevent the stigmatization of entire societies or communities.
Upon his arrival at the White House, President Biden changed the rhetoric since the presidency and criticized the wave of violence against Asians aggravated by those who blame them for the pandemic.
The Stop AAPI Hate group, which follows hate incidents against people of Asian and Pacific island origin, has documented 6,603 cases of verbal harassment, physical assault, or discrimination from March 2020 to March 2021.
Following the shooting in Georgia in March, eight people – six of them women of Asian descent – were killed; congressmen from both chambers called for rapid action on legislation, which becomes law in May, the month of Asian heritage.
The law states that “the incidence of violence known as hate crimes, or crimes motivated by prejudice, poses a serious national problem.” In this regard, it proposes that financial assistance should be provided to states to facilitate the tasks related to the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.
The essential points of the law
The approved proposal requires the Department of Justice to appoint a person responsible to investigate such crimes during the pandemic and calls for the mobilization of resources at the local and state levels.
Specifically, it stipulates that the attorney general issue “a guide for state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies,” which should include the following:
- Establish online reporting of hate crimes or incidents, and have an online report that is equally effective for people with disabilities as well as people without disabilities, available in multiple languages as determined by the attorney general.
- Collect data broken down by the protected characteristics described in section 249 of Title 18 of the United States Code. This refers to all the criminality of hate crimes and sentences of up to 10 years in prison on a case-by-case basis.
- Expand public education campaigns to raise awareness of hate crimes and reach victims, which are just as effective for people with disabilities as they are for people without disabilities.
- Guidance related to the covid-19 pandemic. In coordination with the Covid-19 Health Equity Working Group and community organizations, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services will issue guidance aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the covid-19 pandemic.
“Tired of living in fear.”
MEPs Judy Chu, a California Democrat, president of the Asian-American Caucus of Congress, said at a press conference Tuesday that “after a year in which 6,600 hate crimes and incidents have been reported against Asians, and after a year in which the Asian-American community has been crying out for help, Congress is now taking historic steps to pass legislation on hate crimes that should have been passed a long time ago.”
New York Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng, the project’s main promoter, said at a press conference that people of Asian descent have become the “scapegoat” for the pandemic, and lamented that they have been beaten, stabbed and even killed.
“Asian Americans are tired of living in fear and afraid that their elderly children or parents will take to the streets,” he said, alluding to attacks in different cities across the country.
A study by California State University in San Bernardino indicates that in 2020 there was an increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans of 150% compared to the previous year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stressed that legislation would also strengthen the ability to prevent facts and combat violence.
For his part, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, highlighted that the House’s passage of this law “is proof that when the Senate is allowed to work, the Senate can work to resolve important issues.”
On the other hand, conservatives like Congressman Jim Jordan expressed discontent, considering that “state governments are now being asked to act as policemen of the speech.”