WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate has voted 92-6 to advance the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (S. 937) to address the rise of hate crimes and unprovoked violence targeted at the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a cosponsor of the bill, authored by U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), says it is important for the U.S. Senate to act in a bipartisan manner to condemn all forms of anti-Asian sentiment, racism, and discrimination.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would enable federal officials, in collaboration with state and local agencies and the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community organizations, to better address the rise in pandemic-related hate crimes. According to Stop AAPI Hate, there were at least 3,795 documented attacks on members of the AAPI community from last March to February of this year, and leaders believe the true number is much higher because many attacks go unreported.
“No community is immune to hate and intolerance, but we can all do our part to speak out against it and help prevent it from spreading. I am so proud of Rhode Island’s AAPI community and grateful for the many ways they enrich our state and nation. I stand in solidarity with them and offer my unconditional support, respect, and admiration. These unwarranted, unprovoked attacks are really an assault on the core of our shared American values. We won’t tolerate it and people should speak up when they see something or hear people using xenophobic phrases. We’ve got to stop bigotry and hatred at the root itself – it can have no place in Rhode Island or our nation,” said Senator Reed. “Spreading kindness, facts, and understanding is an effective way to counteract bigotry and ignorance.”
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would strengthen the federal government’s response to hate crimes and improve hate crimes reporting by designating a U.S. Department of Justice employee to assist with expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes reported to federal, state, and/or local law enforcement.
The bill would also provide 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;
· Expand culturally competent and linguistically appropriate public education campaigns, and collection of data and public reporting of hate crimes; and
· Issue guidance detailing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic, in coordination with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, and community-based organizations.
Last May, Senator Reed helped lead a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), urging the Civil Rights Division to take concrete steps to address the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals.
Wednesday’s vote cleared a procedural hurdle that required 60 votes to open debate on the legislation. This means the Senate can debate and amend the bill. But final passage will also require overcoming a 60 vote threshold.
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