As attacks against Asian Americans show no signs of slowing down, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) are pushing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hasten its implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
Why this matters: The law, which came into effect in May, seeks to expedite the investigation of all hate crimes related to the coronavirus. However, its sponsorship came in response to the surge in attacks against Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities, which experts believe are still being underreported.
- National coalition Stop AAPI Hate received 9,081 reports of anti-Asian incidents between March 19, 2020, and June 30, 2021. Verbal harassment (63.7%) comprised the most common type of such incidents, but physical assault (13.7%) saw the largest spike from 2020 (10.8%) to 2021 (16.6%).
- AAPI Data, which publishes demographic data and policy research on Asian Americans, estimated that up to 2 million adults have experienced a hate crime, discrimination or harassment since the onset of COVID-19. “What is missing from reported incidents, therefore, are the majority of cases that comprise the mass beneath the tip of the iceberg that go unreported, unseen and unheard,” it said in a blog post.
- The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act seeks to address underreporting by mandating the U.S. Attorney General to issue guidance for state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on online reporting, which should be available in multiple languages. Additionally, the Attorney General must issue guidance on expanding public education campaigns that aim to raise awareness and reach victims of hate crimes.
What they’re asking: In a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday, Hirono and Meng raised aspects of the law which they say are “critical to its effectiveness.” Central to these aspects is inclusion.
- Citing the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in May and killings of at least 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people in the past year, Hirono and Meng reminded Garland that the expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes should include cases from all groups of people. They also referred to recent FBI data which revealed 2020 as recording the highest number of hate crimes in 12 years due to increasing attacks against African Americans and Asian Americans.
- Hirono and Meng stressed that online reporting should not only include hate crimes, but incidents, too. “Many acts of discrimination do not rise to the level of a hate crime,” they wrote. “While these actions are unlikely to rise to the level of a hate crime, the impetus for these actions are the same — fear and xenophobia. In order to meaningfully address the root causes of this bias and hostility, we need a clear and full picture of the scope of the problem.”
- Finally, the lawmakers stressed that the campaigns aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes and reaching victims “should be linguistically appropriate.” They said campaign materials “must be culturally sensitive and available in different languages” — otherwise, some victims will never be reached.
What the DOJ is doing: Garland previously announced a series of steps toward the implementation of the law. These include the launching of an awareness campaign, expansion of language access and elevation of hate crimes to a Level 1 National Threat, to name a few.
- On June 30, the FBI launched a National Anti-Hate Crimes Campaign to encourage reporting. Its scope includes outdoor advertising, billboards, radio streaming and social media.
- DOJ added information to its website on reporting hate crimes in seven languages, five of which were the “most frequently spoken” AAPI languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese). Ten more languages will be added “in the coming months.”
- On Oct. 1, the FBI will elevate hate crimes and criminal civil rights violations to Level 1 National Threat, its highest-level national threat priority. The move will increase resources for hate crimes prevention and will make hate crimes a focus for all 56 of the agency’s field offices.