The US Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Thursday with an overwhelmingly bi-partisan 94-1 vote, acknowledging the increase in discriminatory acts towards Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill if enacted into law will establish a new position within the US Department of Justice to “facilitate the expedited review of hate crimes.”
The bill also requires the Attorney General to provide direction to State, local, and tribal governments on how to establish online systems for reporting hate crimes, collecting data and expanding public awareness of hate crimes. The bill calls for public education about hate crimes, specifically against Asian Americans, amidst the coronavirus pandemic and formally “condemns and denounces any and all anti-Asian and Pacific Islander sentiment in any form.”
The bill highlights the importance of legislative action: “According to a recent report, there were nearly 3,800 reported cases of anti-Asian discrimination and incidents related to COVID–19 between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, in all 50 States and the District of Columbia.” It also recounts the names of the eight victims of the Atlanta spa shootings, a series of shootings which disproportionately targeted Asian American women. The bill thus recognizes that hate crimes “pose a serious national problem” and that “[a] more complete understanding of the national problem posed by hate crime is in the public interest and supports the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.