Senate Passes AAPI Hate Crimes Legislation – Cantwell Speaks on Senate Floor Against Rise in AAPI Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Senate voted today on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act—bipartisan legislation to crack down on increasing violence and hate targeted at members of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities nationwide—U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of taking action. Violent attacks and acts of hate towards AAPI communities have been on the rise in the State of Washington and nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 94-1.

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 hate crimes until 1 year after the end of the pandemic and provide support for state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies to respond to these hate crimes.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a long history in our country and their contributions have been significant both in cultural vibrancy, to our economy, and to our way of life,” Cantwell said. “But, unfortunately, that has also been marked by periods of history of hate and damaging stereotypes and xenophobia and we saw this again with COVID-19. That is why we needed to act today to pass hate crimes legislation to protect Asian Americans in the United States of America and to make sure that they have tools to protect them.”

According to the group Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 3,800 incidents of violence and/or hate toward AAPI individuals have been recorded nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our AAPI Communities are facing the same challenges we face in the pandemic…But they’ve also, in addition to facing the pandemic, have had to face a rage of hate and racism against them during this time period,” Cantwell continued. “My state, the state of Washington, has the seventh largest Asian American population and the third-largest Pacific Islander population in the nation. Like the rest of the United States, we have seen an increase in these incidents. In fact, in 2020, the state had the third-highest rate of hate crimes targeted against AAPI community members. That’s why I am for getting a full slate of people over at the Department of Justice, including Kristen Clarke, to deal with hate crimes. Why? Because my state is plagued by these issues and we’re not going to tolerate it. We are going to fight back and make sure that we have the infrastructure in place to recognize these things.”

In her remarks, Cantwell referenced specific examples of hate and violence faced by AAPI individuals in Washington in recent months:

“Just this past February, a teacher driving in the Seattle International District was assaulted with a sock containing a rock. The attacker was charged with felony assault but not a hate crime. We’ve been told there are widespread reports of AAPI elders and women throughout Western Washington who have been verbally harassed and randomly physically assaulted… Just a few months ago a woman in King County and her two children were accosted by a man yelling and screaming at them just to get out. ‘Get out, get out, get out.’ And a man was captured on video in downtown attacking and an Asian couple, spitting on them, slapping the man’s face, and yelling at them, ‘It’s your fault.’”

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act directs DOJ to:

  • Designate a DOJ employee to assist with expedited review of hate crimes reported to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement;
  • Provide guidance for state, local, and tribal 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.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act also includes the full text of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which:

  • Establishes incentives for state, local, and Tribal law enforcement to submit credible and complete hate crime reports;
  • Creates grants for state-run hate crime hotlines;
  • Creates grants for states to establish policies on:
    • identifying, investigating, and reporting hate crimes;
    • train law enforcement on how to identify hate crimes; and
    • develop a system for collecting hate crimes data;
  • Requires DOJ to collect and analyze data on hate crimes; and
  • Allows judges to require community service or educational programming for individuals convicted of a federal hate crime.

“Just a week or so ago I participated in a roundtable of the Asian American Pacific Islander community from my state to talk about the need for this national legislation and why it’s so important we have community-based solutions, which include more cultural education to teach our children the history of the Asian American community in the United States, mental health support in multiple languages, and investing in community groups. And this legislation that was passed today, that will give us better tools to prosecute those individuals who participate in hate crimes…this legislation will help us in shining a very bright light on an alarming rise in violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and help us with new tools to combat that crime,” Cantwell added.

After passing the Senate today, the legislation now moves on to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.