US Senate passes hate crimes Bill after Asian American attacks

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The Senate passed by an overwhelming margin legislation designed to combat hate crimes in the US, as lawmakers united to respond after a sharp increase in attacks against Asian Americans since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 94-1 bipartisan vote responds to growing calls for action, including from President Joe Biden who pointed to last month’s shootings by a white gunman at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead. The victims included six women of Asian descent.

While the Bill bolsters resources for addressing hate crimes more broadly, supporters said it will send a clear message to the Asian American community that steps are being taken to curb an alarming increase in threats and violence.

“By passing this Bill, we’ll send a message to the country that should be all too obvious by now,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

“Hate crimes will not be tolerated and federal law enforcement will do everything in its power to detect, deter and if necessary prosecute crimes to the full extent of the law.”

The legislation requires the Justice Department to conduct a review of hate crimes, and to provide guidance to state and local governments to enable them to establish online reporting of hate crimes and expand public education campaigns to raise awareness of such assaults.

It also provides grants for states to establish state-wide hate crimes reporting hotlines and improve their training to better identify and report them.

Its lead sponsors, including Democratic senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, said it could help quell increased attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.

Backers of the Bill cited the language of former president Donald Trump and some of his allies, who routinely called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan Virus” because of its origins, for inflaming prejudice.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose wife Elaine Chao is Asian American, was among Republicans who got behind the legislation.

Missouri GOP Senator Josh Hawley was the lone “no” vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would take and pass the Senate legislation next month. President Joe Biden has said he support the Bill.

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An estimated 3,800 hate crime incidents against people of Asian descent were recorded between March 19, 2020 – around when lock downs started – and Feb 28, 2021, according to the tracking initiative Stop AAPI Hate.

Most were verbal harassment and shunning, but 11 per cent of them were instances of physical assault.

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