Queens congresswoman introduces legislation to combat COVID-19 hate crimes

Photo courtesy of Rep. Grace Meng’s office

As various communities continue to struggle with the surge in discriminatory attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Congresswoman Grace Meng is introducing new legislation to combat the issue. 

Meng’s bill, The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (H.R.6721), would provide greater federal government oversight of COVID-19 hate crimes and require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide congress with regular updates on the status of reported bias incidents. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been numerous reports of Asian Americans being threatened, harassed, or assaulted. The pandemic has also fueled a rise in anti-semitic incidents against the Jewish community, and caused concern among members of the LGBTQ community. 

As a result, these communities, in addition to working to combat the virus, are left fighting an additional front of hate and injustice, Meng said. 

“As millions across the nation are worried about and impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, many are also living in fear following the dramatic increase of threats and attacks against different communities due to the rise in COVID-19-related bigotry and hate,” Meng said. “Many are afraid of abusive and violent acts being committed against them and their loved ones. During this time of heightened anxiety, we must do everything possible to protect the safety of every single person – no matter their race, ethnicity, religion or background.”

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would require the U.S. attorney general to designate a Department of Justice officer or employee to facilitate an expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes reported to federal, state, and/or local law enforcement. 

It also requires a report to be sent to congress monthly on the status of the cases, including any resources provided to complainants, and actions taken to further investigate those incidents, with data disaggregated by victim’s race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and location of occurrence. 

These reports would be required to be provided for at least until one year after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted.

Meng’s supporters commended her on being a champion against all forms of discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need greater transparency and accountability in the reporting and handling of COVID-19-related hate crimes by law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels,” said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Asian Americans Advancing Justice | 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 protecting health and safety for all.”

According to Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the surge in anti-Asian hate has been felt especially by women, who have reported between two and three times more instances of harassment and violence than men in just the past several weeks. 

“Recently, I have personally been on the receiving end of racist harassment, when I was taking a walk with my five-year-old daughter,” Choimorrow said. “Our government has a critical role and responsibility in ensuring the health and safety of our communities and this racist hate, harassment, and violence must cease so that we can recover together.”

Adam Carbullido, director of Policy and Advocacy at the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, said COVID-19 has affected all communities, and it is “appalling” that Asian Americans have become targets of physical and verbal abuse among other acts of hate. 

“Like many, Asian Americans are on the front lines in combating COVID-19, serving as trusted health care providers and other essential workers,” Carbullido said. “Acts of hate and violence against our communities make it difficult for medical providers to give care and stokes fear in patients who are afraid to seek the care they need.”

Meng’s bill is endorsed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), Oxfam America, and Muslim Advocates.