A new law would force the US Department of Justice to focus on prosecuting hate crimes amid the upsurge in attacks.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday to address the rise in hate crimes against Asians during the coronavirus pandemic, paving the way for the enactment of a major new hate crime law.
The measure, passed in the Senate by an overwhelming 94 to 1 majority, would lead a review of hate crimes by the US Department of Justice and provide support to local law enforcement agencies responding to violent incidents.
Over the past year, US police have seen an upsurge in racially motivated crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the shooting last month in Georgia that killed six women of Asian origin.
“It only makes your stomach turn what we’ve seen so far – far too often – in the wake of COVID-19,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.
In California and New York, which are home to large Asian-American populations, alarming incidents of violence.
In March, a 75-year-old Asian man, Pak Ho, died after being pushed to the ground while walking in the morning near his home in Oakland. A suspect faces assault charges, but not a hate crime charge.
In New York, a 65-year-old Filipina assaulted in broad daylight while walking down the street by a man who kicked her in the stomach and stomped on her head. The incident was captured on security video. She survived and he was arrested.
Last year, an Asian immigrant and his two young sons were stabbed and slashed while shopping in Midland, Texas.
The watchdog group, Stop AAPI Hate, reported 3,795 incidents nationwide between March 2020 and February 2021.
“People face this kind of bigotry every day,” Schumer told reporters. “I hear the stories.”
“An elderly man told me he was afraid to walk down the street from the house he lives in because he was insulted and spat on,” the New York senator said.
“A young woman told me that she no longer got on the subway because the looks were so mean and forbidding. These two stories can be repeated thousands of times every day in all states. “
Law enforcement and advocates in the United States of America have said that increase in hate crimes against Asians is linked to the political rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians who blamed the pandemic on China.
Hate crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute. The legislation provides a hotline for local prosecutors who wish to seek advice in such cases and training for law enforcement officials.
“These unprovoked and random attacks and incidents are happening in supermarkets, on our streets, in take-out restaurants – basically wherever we are,” Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono said.
The attacks are “a predictable and predictable consequence” of the racist and inflammatory language that was used against Asians during the pandemic, including the slurs used by Trump, Hirono said.
“It signals to the AAPI community that we see you and that we will be by your side and we will protect you,” said Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth.
The legislation, which is backed by President Biden, is then expected to clear the majority Democratic House of Representatives before going to the president’s office for his signature.