POLITICS
05/08/2020 11:21 EDT

Congressional Democrats Tell DOJ To Do More To Address COVID-19 Hate Crimes

Attacks have skyrocketed against Asians and Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, but the federal response has fallen short, the lawmakers said.

Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are demanding the Department of Justice develop specific plans to address the surge in racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism related to the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), introduced legislation Thursday that would force the DOJ to designate an official to swiftly review federal, state and local reports of COVID-19 hate crimes and to provide monthly updates to Congress on what the department has done to investigate the cases.

Separately, 16 Democratic senators — led by Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Cory Booker of New Jersey — signed a letter last week imploring the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to specify a plan by May 15 to combat the surge in racism against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities related to COVID-19.

“There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers,” the senators wrote. “It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic.” 

The letter criticized “the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike.”

The letter refers to recent reporting from the Center for Public Integrity that found that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division devoted concerted efforts to address the surge in racism and Islamophobia against South Asians and American Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also had a detailed plan to combat anti-Asian harassment and discrimination in response to the SARS outbreak.

Beginning in March, federal officials warned of a potential surge in hate crimes and extremism tied to the pandemic.

Throughout recent months, AAPI communities across the country have reported skyrocketing incidents of racist attacks, stoked by racist rhetoric, including from President Donald Trump, such as describing COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”

Over a four-week period beginning March 19, a group of AAPI advocacy organizations and scholars collected nearly 1,500 reports of racist incidents against AAPI individuals. The incidents, submitted by respondents in 45 states and Washington, D.C., ranged from being spat on, called racial slurs, refused service and physically assaulted.

As of Monday, the groups have received 1,716 reports.

In New York City, the city’s Commission on Human Rights said last month that it has received 105 reports of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination since February, compared to just five during the same period in 2019.

Activists have said they fear such attacks will continue to rise, as states begin to lift their stay-at-home orders and more people start going out in public again.


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