March 12 (UPI) -- Two Democratic lawmakers reintroduced legislation to combat hate crime targeting Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Grace Meng of New York and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii announced in a joint statement on Thursday that they introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act amid a surge in incidents of physical, verbal and online attacks targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
"We've seen the horrifying consequences of racist language as AAPI communities across our country experience hate crimes and violence related to the pandemic," Hirono said. "The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act addresses the surge in violence against AAPI communities by dedicating an official at the Department of Justice to expeditiously review hate crimes reported to law enforcement."
The bill also directs state and local law enforcement to establish a method for hate crimes and incidents to be reported online in multiple languages, expand public education campaigns and have the secretary of Health and Human Services issue best-practice guidance to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The bill also provides resources for communities to come together and fight intolerance and hate," Hirono said. "This is no less than victims deserve."
The Democratic pair introduced the bill as incidents of hate crime against Asians in the United States surge.
Early last month, Stop AAPI Hate published a report stating it has received more than 2,800 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate including physical assault, verbal harassment and discrimination between March 19, 2020, and Dec. 31.
A second report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University published early this month said anti-Asian hate crime in 16 of the United States' largest cities increased by 149% in 2020 compared to a year earlier despite hate crime declining overall by 7%.
Researchers said in the report that they noticed a spike in such crimes occurring in March and April of last year amid a rise in COVID-19 cases "and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic." They also observed steep surges of such incidents in New York and Los Angeles.
The bill was introduced Thursday as President Joe Biden condemned "violent hate crimes against Asian Americans" in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
"At this very movement, so many of them, our fellow Americans are on the front lines of this and still, they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down the streets in America," he said. "It's wrong, it's un-American and it must stop."
Biden in late January had issued a presidential memorandum condemning such hate incidents and directing the attorney general to partner with Asian American communities to prevent and better collect data on these crimes.
The department last week held a listening session with more than a dozen AAPI community leaders to combat the surge. The White House held a similar meeting the day before, it said in a readout of the event.
Biden's stance toward the issue is markedly different from his predecessor Donald Trump who was repeatedly chastised for referring to the coronavirus as the China virus.
Meng, who had introduced a similar bill last May but it never made it to the floor for a vote, accused Trump and his administration on Thursday of having "trafficked racist, bigoted terms to describe the COVID-19" that stoked fears and created an atmosphere of intolerance and violence that still persists despite his term in office having concluded.
"This must end and it is why we are working to ensure our justice system has the people and resources to effectively account for and mitigate anti-Asian hate crimes," she said.
John C. Yang, president and executive direct of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said he is "grateful" to the politicians for responding with legislation to the increase in attacks.
"AAJC is committed to countering hate in all its forms, and we will continue to push for a comprehensive approach to documenting and addressing hate crimes and prioritizing health and safety for all," Yang said.