US President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act Thursday to address the nationwide surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the past year.
The signing of the bipartisan legislation follows testimony from experts about the rise in violence and grassroots pressure to protect Asian American communities. Biden spoke about the urgency of the matter while signing the law.
“All of this hate hides in plain sight,” Biden said at the White House. “Too often it is met with silence — silence by the media, silence by our politics, and silence by our history.”
The law seeks to break that silence by improving law enforcement capabilities for dealing with hate crimes. Law enforcement agencies will receive training to better identify hate crimes, while officials will also deploy public education campaigns and create hate crime hotlines. The Justice Department will install someone to accelerate the agency’s review of hate crimes. Efforts to improve data collection around hate crimes will also commence.
Over the past year, more than 6,600 hate crimes have been reported against Asian-Americans, according to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate. Experts point to misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and rising anti-Asian rhetoric from political figures and media pundits as instigating factors of the violence.
The majority of crimes have taken place in parks, public streets, and businesses, and people report that verbal harassment, shunning, and physical attacks are the most common types of hate crime experienced. The public nature of these attacks has caused a feeling of dread to pervade many Asian American communities. This dread reached a peak in March when a gunman murdered six women of Asian descent at their places of employment.
Many Asian-American advocacy groups hailed the passage of the law as a historic moment.
“The passage of this bill today begins a much-needed step forward in prioritizing language access and culturally competent outreach to our communities in reporting and addressing anti-Asian hate, while also giving the communities power to allocate resources for community solutions to hate and discrimination, including non-law enforcement support services for victims and communities,” said John C. Yang, the president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, in a statement.
“This step forward also improves hate crimes reporting and data collection infrastructure to keep government agencies and law enforcement accountable to our communities’ needs,” he said.
Other groups, including Stop AAPI Hate, criticize how the law increases the power of law enforcement.
“Because the Act centers criminal law enforcement agencies in its solutions, it will not address the overwhelming majority of incidents reported to our site which are not hate crimes, but serious hate incidents,” the organization wrote in a press release.
Stop AAPI Hate calls on the federal government to pass “legislation that addresses the root causes of systemic racism and oppression” by investing in mental health and immigration services, funding community-based groups, elevating “voices and histories of all communities by expanding ethnic studies and education,” and “strengthen[ing] federal civil rights laws that address discrimination in public accommodations.”