Matt Katz: It's The Takeaway. I'm Matt Katz, a reporter at WNYC in for Tanzina Vega. Anti-Asian violence spiked across the US during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled in part by the racist and xenophobic rhetoric we've heard over the last four years and beyond. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. It aims to address the uptick in hate crimes targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander population.
President Joe Biden: All of this hate hides in plain sight. It hides in plain sight, and too often, it is met with silence, silenced by the media, silenced by our politics, and silenced by our history.
Matt Katz: The legislation passed in the House earlier this week and received overwhelming support in the Senate last month. Here's Congresswoman Judy Chu, one of the bill's co-sponsors, speaking on Tuesday.
Congresswoman Judy Chu: What is it like to open up the newspaper every day and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked, and even killed? Well, when you read that every single day and see that there's 6,600 of them, and that's probably an underreporting, then you start to think, "Well, will I be next?"
Matt Katz: According to Stop AAPI Hates, an organization tracking racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, there have been more than 6,600 reported incidents of anti-Asian discrimination since last year. That includes everything from physical violence and verbal harassment, to bullying and vandalism.
The last piece of federal hate crimes legislation was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act from back in 2009, which sought to address hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. What exactly does the new COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act mean for the AAPI population? Let's talk about it.
With me now is Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents California's 27th District. She's also the Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Congresswoman Chu, great to have you with us.
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Thank you for having me.
Matt Katz: It's our pleasure. Tell us why this piece of legislation is significant. Is it both symbolic and concrete in what it does?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: It is actually concrete in providing relief to so many Asian Americans across the country but also to all hate crime victims in this country. I was so overwhelmed and gratified to be there in the White House at this important moment in history when this bill was signed into law. For over a year, the AAPI community has experienced fear, anxiety, and terror due to anti-Asian hate crimes, but finally, we have a bill that will provide relief.
It provides for a designated person in the Department of Justice to expedite the prosecution of hate crimes. It issues guidance to all jurisdictions local, state, and tribal on the ability to establish online reporting and the way in which to conduct culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate public education campaigns with communities on hate crimes.
It includes The No Hate Act, of which I am a co-lead, which will improve the ability to collect hate crime statistics, and to also provide resources to governments, local governments, so that they can actually have training and resources to improve their enforcement of hate crimes in their local jurisdiction, and also provide for state-run hotlines for victims.
Matt Katz: Was this all in a direct response to the rise in anti-Asian violence over the past year, the rhetoric over the past four or five years, or is it more than that?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: The anti-Asian hate crimes started in the last year with the rise of President Trump's rhetoric where he exacerbated the anti-Asian hate by using the terms China virus, Wuhan virus, and "Kung Flu". This is how we ended up with 6,600 anti-Asian hate crimes. Let me tell you that we wouldn't have even known about the 6,600 had it not been for nonprofits that stepped up to establish an anti-Asian hate crime reporting site.
That just show how seriously lacking our federal hate crime reporting system is. Actually, was way back in 1990 when the FBI was mandated to collect hate crime statistics, but they relied on local jurisdictions to voluntarily provide that information.
Out of the 15,000 local law enforcement agencies, only 15% ever reported to the FBI. You can imagine how faulty our hate crime reporting system is and you could run holes through it. That's why this bill was so needed so that we can improve the national system for reporting such crimes, but also provide resources to local law enforcement so that they can get the proper training and policies that will help them to address hate crimes.
Matt Katz: Part of this just seems to be getting a handle on how big of a problem this is. We don't even really know how often this happens, right?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: We do not. If you don't have accurate statistics, then you don't know how to solve the problem. Just to demonstrate how bad the system was, Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer's families were there yesterday. Heather Heyer was killed by the white supremacists in Charlottesville, and Khalid Jabara was killed by his next-door neighbor who hated him because he was Arab. The local jurisdiction never reported this to the FBI as a hate crime.
Matt Katz: One limitation here seems to be how Congress defines a hate crime. The majority of recent incidents against the AAPI population, as I understand it, have been verbal harassment, which isn't necessarily a hate crime, right?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: It's not. In fact, most of the 6,600 hate crimes and incidents are really hate incidents where it's a verbal assault of some sort, but I think we have to have some ability to also track the hate incidents and stop the law enforcement personnel from just turning away somebody who's the victim of a terrible verbal assault and say, "I can't do anything for you". We need to have some way of also tracking that. That's what I hope that this hate crime bill will do.
Matt Katz: A number of Asian American, also LGBTQ organizations, including Stop AAPI Hate, have raised concerns about the new hate crime legislation saying that it doesn't get at the root cause of the violence, is there legislation that can tackle the root cause of these hate crimes and hate incidents?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: President Biden was so passionate yesterday and so eloquent in talking about what the root cause is, which is our attitudes, it is our desire to deal with hate crimes, and to have communication and understanding of one another.
The root cause has to do with how we interact with each other in the society. The change starts when people at the very top say "Stop," to this hate. President Biden did that, which, by the way, was a sea change from, of course, the previous year, in which the President actually exacerbated the hate crimes that were occurring against AAPIs.
In fact, we tried to have some communication with President Trump and tried to meet with the Department of Justice for an entire year, but were ignored. President Biden changed things tremendously when he came in and expressed his strong condemnation of hate crimes, and also the resources of the Department of Justice in addressing this.
From the very top, he changed things. What we need to do as a nation is respond to that, respond to that strong call to stop these hate crimes, not only against AAPIs but against anybody who is the victim of scapegoating and blaming in this country.
Matt Katz: 63 Republicans in the House did not vote in favor of this bill. What was their justification and what were your conversations with them like about this?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: It was very disturbing. They said things like hate crimes should not be distinguished from other crimes. They should be just treated like any crime. There was also some who said that this turns the Federal government into the speech police, giving the government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech. Actually, it didn't expand the authority of the Federal government to monitor police. This person was greatly mistaken.
Then there were those who just didn't want to vote for it because of the implication that it would blame Trump. Actually, the bill doesn't mention Trump in any way. That was not a legitimate complaint that they should have had.
Matt Katz: Before I let you go, Congresswoman, can you just describe how Asian-Americans in this country right now are feeling, are they changing their behavior out of concern that they could be beaten up or attacked on the streets, and what's it like?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: For the whole past year, there have been these terrible attacks and assaults reported. In this last year, there were even more assaults against the elderly, against the vulnerable, against two elderly Asian women sitting at a bus stop in San Francisco when a man attacks them, stabbing them with knives in the chest, requiring the 84-year-old to go to the hospital and get surgery.
This is the kind of thing that is terrorizing the community. People are concerned for their grandmothers and grandfathers, but they also have been waking up every day saying, "Will I be next?"
Matt Katz: It's horrifying and we'll wait to see what this legislation can do to keep this community and all communities as safe as possible. Congresswoman Judy Chu represents California's 27th District. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us on The Takeaway.
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