Queens lawmaker to introduce legislation to combat surge of anti-Asian hate crimes

File photo courtesy of Rep. Grace Meng’s office

Congresswoman Grace Meng is reintroducing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) experience a wave of physical, verbal and online attacks in Queens and beyond. 

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act seeks to address the ongoing hate and violence toward AAPIs by providing greater assistance with law enforcement response to COVID-19 hate crimes and creating a position at the Department of Justice to facilitate review of such cases. 

Meng, who serves as first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said she is honored to introduce the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), executive board member of CPAC. 

“Before this pandemic started, I urged everyone to — including elected officials — to not blame Asian Americans for the virus. My words were not heeded,” Meng said. “The former president and his congressional Republican enablers trafficked racist, bigoted terms to describe COVID-19. In doing so, their language stoked people’s fears and created an atmosphere of intolerance and violence, which persists even today.”

According to Meng, since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been nearly 3,000 reported incidents of physical, verbal and online attacks against Asian Americans, especially in her district, which covers Auburndale, Bayside, Elmhurst, Flushing, Forest Hills, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Maspeth, Middle Village, Murray Hill and Rego Park.

Meng said they’re working to ensure the justice system has the people and resources to effectively account for and mitigate anti-Asian hate crimes. 

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

It would issue guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of hate crimes or incidents, and to have online reporting available in multiple languages. Plus, it would expand culturally competent and linguistically appropriate public education campaigns, and collection of data and public reporting of hate crimes. 

Additionally, the bill will issue guidance on describing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic, in coordination with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations.

Hirono said they have seen the horrifying consequences of racist language as AAPI communities across the country experience hate crimes and violence related to the pandemic. 

“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,” Hirono said. “The bill also provides resources for communities to come together and fight intolerance and hate. This is no less than victims deserve.”

John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), said they’re grateful for the leadership of Hirono and Meng in responding to the increased attacks on Asian Americans during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Yang says they need improvements in the reporting and handling of COVID-19 related hate crimes by law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels, as well as making systems more accessible for people with limited proficiency in English. 

“We appreciate the emphasis on linguistically appropriate and culturally competent engagement on data collection and reporting. 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 health and safety for all,” Yang said. 

A.B. Cruz, III, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, said they’re also committed to ensuring that hate crimes against the Asian American community are properly investigated and prosecuted. 

“The expedited review of hate crimes reported to federal, state and local law enforcement by the Department of Justice will increase accountability in addressing hate against our community, and establishing a platform for online reporting of hate crimes and incidents in multiple languages will allow more victims to come forward,” Cruz said. 

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