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The bill, which passed through the Senate in April and the House two days before Biden signed it, is supposed to help the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate hate crimes faster.
- On May 20, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law, following its bipartisan passage through Congress.
- The bill’s focus is on addressing hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), which have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The bill notes that “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.”
- The bill also highlights the March mass shooting in the Atlanta, Georgia area that saw three massage parlors attacked, resulting in eight deaths, including six Asian women.
- In signing the bill, Biden said, “I’m proud today of the United States.”
What is the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act?
- The bill, which passed through the Senate in April and the House two days before Biden signed it, is supposed to help the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate hate crimes faster.
- The bill does this by allowing the attorney general to appoint someone to expedite (speed up) the review of reported hate crimes at all law enforcement levels.
- The DOJ will also help state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies better report hate crimes by making online reporting easier and expanding education about hate crimes.
- A subsection of the bill, entitled the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act, gives grants to law enforcement agencies so they can improve hate crime training and create reporting hotlines.
- That section is named after Khalid Jabara, an Oklahoma man of Lebanese origin, who was killed by his neighbor, and Heather Heyer, who was killed by a Neo-Nazi during the Charlottesville, West Virginia protests in 2017.
So does this bill punish hate crimes?
- This bill is frequently described as a hate crimes bill, but it doesn’t add any definitions or requirements to existing hate crimes legislation.
- There have been federal laws against hate crimes in the United States since 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the first such law.
- That law made it a federal crime to use or threaten to use force against anyone involved in a legal activity based on “race, color, religion, or national origin.”
- It specifically addressed racial discrimination against Black Americans following years of Jim Crow laws. Such laws prevented Black people from voting or getting an education at certain schools, among other restrictions.
- In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed another law, the Shepard-Byrd Act, which strengthened the existing hate crime laws and extended them to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
Are hate crimes against Asians really common?
- Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Asians in the US and around the world have increasingly faced hate crimes.
- Full statistics for crimes in 2020 haven’t yet been released, but preliminary studies found that 2020 saw hate crimes against Asians increase 150% over 2019.
- Of the nearly 3,800 Asian-related crimes discussed in the bill, the race of the victim was cited as the primary reason for the attack in 90% of the crimes.
- Former President Donald Trump has often been accused of stirring up hate against Asians by calling COVID-19 the “China virus” and the “Kung flu.”
- That’s why it was such a big deal that this bill had bipartisan support.
- In the Senate, the bill had only one “nay” vote, from Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
- In the House, the bill passed by a final vote of 364-62, with all nay votes coming from Republicans. But 147 Republicans did vote with the 217 Democrats.
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