The US Senate has voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill intended to improve federal, state and local law enforcement’s ability to respond to hate crimes, especially those targeting Asian Americans.
The Senate’s 94-1 vote on Thursday to approve the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act was a rare example of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill. Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, was the only lawmaker to oppose it.
The bill proposes a new office in the US Department of Justice specifically to address hate crimes against Asian Americans. It will now be sent to the House, where it is likely to find similar bipartisan support.
The Senate bill was introduced by Mazie Hirono and Tammy Duckworth, Democratic senators from Hawaii and Illinois, respectively, to tackle the growing number of recorded hate crimes committed against Asian Americans amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Corresponding legislation in the House has been sponsored by Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York.
Hirono and Duckworth are the only Asian-Americans in the 100-member upper chamber of Congress.
The legislation was introduced shortly before a shooting last month in Atlanta that killed eight people, including six Asian American women. Those murders piled pressure on members of Congress to take action after a year marked by a sharp rise in crimes against Asian Americans.
The Stop AAPI Hate Initiative, an advocacy group, recorded nearly 3,800 hate incidents targeting Asian Americans between March 2020 and February 2021. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University found hate crimes targeting Asian Americans rose nearly 150 per cent last year.
Critics have blamed former US president Donald Trump, who frequently called coronavirus the “Kung flu” and the “China virus”, for fanning the flames of racism.
“Today, the Senate said enough is enough, and underscored loud and clear that there is no place for hate anywhere in our society,” Meng said.
“More reporting of hate crimes will provide us with increased data and a more accurate picture of the attacks that have been occurring against those of Asian descent, and a more centralised and unified way of reviewing these crimes would help to address the problem in a more effective manner,” she added.
The Senate bill introduced by Hirono and Duckworth was amended to include separate anti-hate crime legislation introduced by Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut, and Jerry Moran, the Republican from Kansas. Their proposals would expand resources to improve hate crime reporting and increase investment for assistance for hate crime victims.
“Don’t let anyone say that we can’t do bills, important big bills, bipartisan bills in the United States Senate,” Blumenthal said on Thursday. “When American values are on the line, we can do them.”