Asian-Americans demand action on hate crimes spurred by COVID crisis, N.J. congressman says

Posted Apr 13, 2021

Following the killings of six Asian Americans in Georgia, Rep. Andy Kim flew to Atlanta to meet with a community already traumatized by the uptick in hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.

“One question kept coming, which is, ‘What are you going to do about this?’” Kim, D-3rd Dist., said Tuesday. “That is the demand being made right now, It’s a demand that is justified given the violence and discrimination that the AAPI [Asian American Pacific Islander] community has faced.”

Kim, who had come to Atlanta March 28 with three other Asian-American members of Congress, joined other lawmakers Tuesday at a Capitol press conference called to push legislation designed to make it easier for Asian-Americans to report bias incidents and to help federal and local law enforcement authorities address them.

“There is no reason, no reason, this shouldn’t be a bipartisan bill that passes the Senate without delay,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “This is not some piece of gotcha legislation. This is legislation our times demand.”

Anti-Asian incidents have grown across the county. Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group, found 3,795 such occurrences across the nation from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021. In March, six Asian-American women were among eight people killed at three spas in the Atlanta area.

Many incidents are never reported, because victims don’t speak English or know where to go. The bill requires authorities to provide ways to report such incidents online and to reach out to affected communities in their own languages to encourage them to report.

“For more than a year, the Asian American community has been fighting two viruses -- the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Asian hate,” said Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., the lead sponsor of the legislation in the House.

Asian-Americans long have been singled out for discrimination, most notably during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps.

But the problem has gotten worse during the pandemic, with unprovoked verbal and physical attacks on Asian-Americans. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, blamed the uptick on rhetoric during President Donald Trump’s administration.

“When you have a president who deems a virus to be the China virus or to have members of his administration refer to it as kung flu, you create an environment where people will be motivated, because of whatever reasons they have, to commit these kinds of crimes,” she said. “It’s very important we now have a president who speaks out and takes a stand.”

In an executive order issued Jan. 26, President Joe Biden acknowledged the federal government’s role “in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin.”

Biden said his administration “condemns and denounces acts of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI communities.”

In New Jersey, bias incidents against Asian-Americans rose 74% last year to 68, up from 39 in 2019, according to preliminary data released by the New Jersey State Police

There are 941,057 Asian Americans in New Jersey, more than 10% of the population, according to Jersey Promise, an advocacy group for Asian-Americans. Only California and Hawaii have a larger percentage of Asian-Americans.

Kim, who is of Korean ancestry, said his 5-year-old son was taunted in school as “Chinese boy.” And he said he worried such attacks on Asian-Americans could increase as the U.S. steps up competition with China.

“This is a historic moment right now for the AAPI community in America,” he said. “There has never been a situation during my lifetime where I felt this level of fear and this level of vulnerability and also a level of isolation that I do right now.”

Schumer said at the press conference that he would bring up the Senate bill for a vote this week, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her chamber would consider similar legislation after that.

Kim said he hoped to have some good news to report when he returned to Atlanta to meet with Asian-Americans there.

“I want to go back there and look them in the eye and say, ‘We did everything that we could at this moment to try to fight for justice and equality and allow you to feel safe here in your home country,” he said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-04-14 03:38:51 -0700