WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) this week in introducing legislation to address the rise of hate crimes and violence targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would assign a point person at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expedite the review and reporting of COVID-19-related hate crimes, provide support for state and local law enforcement agencies to respond to these hate crimes, and coordinate with local and federal partners to mitigate racially discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.
“We want to make it absolutely clear: the violent hate crimes we have seen committed against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Washington state and across the country are unacceptable and there will be accountability,” Senator Murray said. “These heinous acts have become increasingly common during the pandemic and as we work to address the broader consequences of racism throughout our society, we’re taking steps right now to keep Asian American and Pacific Islander communities safe and send a message that these hate crimes must stop immediately.”
“We have to address the acts of hate against AAPI communities, which have been on the rise in Washington state and across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic. We need this bill to help stop these violent attacks,” said Senator Cantwell.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act directs DOJ to:
- Designate a DOJ employee to assist with expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes reported to federal, state, and/or local law enforcement;
- Provide guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies to:
- establish online reporting of hate crimes or incidents, and to have online reporting available in multiple languages;
- expand culturally competent and linguistically appropriate public education campaigns, and collection of data and public reporting of hate crimes; and
- Issue guidance detailing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic, in coordination with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the COVID–19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 3,000 first-hand accounts of anti-Asian discrimination have been reported, some including vicious assaults against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) elders. Between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020, Stop AAPI Hate received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans across the U.S. States with the highest Asian American populations reported the most incidents.
In Washington state, officials in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said they charged 59 anti-Asian hate crime cases in 2020, up from 39 in 2019. Already in 2021, prosecutors have charged 7 cases in King County. In 2020, Washington state ranked 4th for highest rate of incidents of targeted harassment against AAPI community members.
At the start of the pandemic, both Senators Murray and Cantwell raised concerns about the rise in anti-Asian racism, and Senator Cantwell called on the Trump administration to issue guidance to federal agencies to address and prevent anti-Asian racism and xenophobia related to the coronavirus. Shortly after taking office, President Biden issued a memorandum on January 26, 2021, condemning racism and intolerance against the AAPI community and announced steps to combat the rising number of incidents.
In addition to Murray, Cantwell, and Hirono, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Warner (D-VA), and 55 members of the House of Representatives.