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Queens lawmaker calls for passage of COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to address anti-Asian hate

(From l. to r.) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speak at a press conference on Tuesday, April 13, urging Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.

Congresswoman Grace Meng and her colleagues in the House and Senate on Tuesday, April 13, called for the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which seeks to help combat the ongoing bigotry and violence directed toward Asians Americans. 

Meng joined Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) to announce the measure that has received support from President Biden, who is also calling on Congress to pass the bill. 

In March, Meng and Hirono reintroduced the legislation, which seeks to address the ongoing hate and senseless violence targeted toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (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 expedited review of cases. 

“Oftentimes, we tell people to report if something happens to them, but it’s always not easy to do so,” said Meng, first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). “People might not know where a police precinct is, have language obstacles, and we also need more resources for our local entities to be able to figure out how to most effectively investigate these types of incidents.”

Meng described the attacks as “horrifying” that have been occurring across the nation and in her district in Queens, where several incidents have been reported to the NYPD. 

“We have heard about and seen videos of both young and elderly Asian Americans being shoved to the ground, stomped on, beaten, spat on and shunned — these heinous acts have been outrageous, unconscionable, and they must end,” Meng said. 

In order to combat hate crimes, Meng said the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will encourage more reporting of incidents in multiple languages, and help make communities feel more empowered to come forward and report the incidents. The bill will also direct federal agencies to work with community-based organizations to find ways to talk about the pandemic in a way that is not discriminatory. 

“There are over 3,800 cases of reports and the number of incidents are likely higher,” Meng said. “Increased reporting of hate crimes would give us accurate data and a clearer and fuller picture of attacks occurring, so we know what resources specifically are needed.”

Over the past year, the congresswoman has met with Asian American community members whose lives have been threatened or their loved ones that have been attacked, she said. According to Meng, she is hopeful that her legislation is moving forward and is approved by the Senate and House. 

“It’s about people’s lives and their right to be safe. It’s about our parents and grandparents walking down the street safely, it’s about our kids being able to go to school and play outside without fear of being harassed,” Meng said. “We must all, as Democrats and Republicans, stand together against this racism and violence, and say enough is enough.” 

According to Schumer, there has been a rising tide of violence and discrimination of Asian Americans, driven by fear, misinformation and age-old prejudices, from shouted insults to racial slurs and actual physical assaults.

“In America, an attack on one group is an attack on all of us,” Schumer said. “It’s now up to all of us to stand up and speak out in support of the Asian American community. In the Senate, we have more than a responsibility to speak out, we have a moral imperative to take action.” 

As the majority leader of the Senate, Schumer said he will make sure the Senate will vote on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes bill this week that Meng and Hirono have reintroduced in the House. 

“Combating hate in the Asian American community can and should be bipartisan,” Schumer said. “The way to do that is for 60 senators to vote to proceed to the legislation.  I hope it will be many more than 60 — who would oppose this very simple, but necessary legislation?”

According to Schumer, they are open to strengthening the bill, as efforts are underway to add a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). 

“Their bill would provide resources to state and local law enforcement to improve hate crime reporting, increased training and established pathways to rehabilitation,” Schumer said. 

As President Biden has urged Congress to swiftly pass the legislation, Schumer reiterated that the Senate will debate and take action to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans. 

“There is no reason this shouldn’t be a bipartisan bill that passes the Senate without delay,” Schumer said.

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