The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly gave final passage on Tuesday to the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, in response to the rise in violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote came during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month. The measure needed two-thirds of the chamber’s support and passed in a 364-62 vote.
The Senate’s increasingly rare bipartisan effort, passed the resolution “condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16 and reaffirming the House’s commitment to combating hate, bigotry, and violence against the AAPI community”.
Congressman and lawyer Grace Meng, who is of Taiwanese descent, told reporters, “Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of Covid-19, and as a result Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed. The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian Americans are tired of living in fear.”
She declared, “We are as American as anyone else in this country, and we will be seen as invisible no more.”
The bill, introduced by Meng and Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono will take relatively modest steps to equip law enforcement and communities to better deal with the rise in attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
It will assign a point person at the Department of Justice to expedite the review of Covid-19-related hate crimes, provide support for law enforcement agencies to respond to hate crimes and facilitate coordination between local and state partners to curb discriminatory language used to describe the Covid-19 pandemic.
The effort to pass the legislation began after the shooting of eight people, including six Asian women, at several spas in the Atlanta area in March. That shooting followed a general rise in anti-Asian feelings across the country.
President Joe Biden has urged Congress to swiftly pass the bill and is expected to sign it into law now that it’s passed on to his desk. He condemned hate crimes against AAPI communities in an executive order during his first week in office.
The federal government had been under pressure to respond to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. The nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate has reported nearly 7,000 incidents of physical assault, shunning, verbal and online harassment, and civil-rights violations against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the US from March 2020 to March 2021.
During a hearing on the bill in March, Meng accused former president Donald Trump and other officials of “putting a bull’s-eye on the back” of Asian Americans by regularly using inflammatory rhetoric in regard to the pandemic.