Legislators and experts testifying ahead of a House Subcommittee on Justice hearing Thursday called for a change in public rhetoric regarding Covid-19 and foreign policy, as well as new laws against hate crimes to be passed to counter increasing discrimination and violence against Asian Americans .
The hearing came after a fatal rampage in Georgia that week that killed 8 people, most of whom were Asians. This deepened the feeling of fear in many Asian American communities in the United States
“The conversation we are having today is long overdue and it is important that Congress shed some light on this issue,” said Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, DN.Y. “The last Congressional hearing on violence against Asian Americans was in this subcommittee in 1987.”
“Thirty-four years is too long for Congress to leave this issue untouched,” said Nadler. “Our government must thoroughly investigate and swiftly address the growing tensions and violence against the Asian-American community, especially in the face of the pandemic, because lives and livelihoods are really at stake.”
Officials, researchers, and advocates elected by Asia and America gave testimony setting out treatment of Asians throughout US history, personal experiences of racism, and calls to action.
“Combating hatred is not a partisan issue,” said Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif. “We can all agree that violence against a community should never be tolerated.”
Many panellists highlighted the impact of officials blaming China for the Covid crisis and using offensive terms such as “kung flu” and “China virus” to describe the coronavirus, particularly by former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the Asia-Pacific Caucus, said the perpetrators of anti-Asian violence and hatred were “fueled by the words of former President Donald Trump, who tried to excuse guilt and anger from averting his own botched response to the coronavirus. “
Experts said research shows a link between what executives say and hate incidents.
“Those words are especially important when they came from the White House repeatedly during the previous administration. Researchers have found that the anti-Asian rhetoric advocated by leaders correlates directly with an increase in racist incidents against Asian Americans,” said Erika Lee, professor of history and Asian American studies at the University of Minnesota.
Lawmakers and advocates also discussed how US foreign policy affects the treatment of Asians in America.
“We have legitimate concerns and geopolitical differences with the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, but this is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. However, if we’re not careful, those differences will have ramifications for our Asian-American community,” he told John Yang, president of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice civil rights group.
Yang and other witnesses cited the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II and Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Americans after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as examples in history when U.S. foreign policy directly affected the communities in America.
“We have heard in the past 24 hours that many people are calling anti-Asian discrimination and racial violence un-American. Unfortunately, it’s very American,” Lee said.
Several panelists urged Congress to pass hate crime laws introduced earlier this month by Rep. Grace Meng, DN.Y., and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii.
The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act aims to combat the rise in violence against Asian Americans by strengthening oversight of Covid-related hate crimes in the Department of Justice and assisting state and local law enforcement agencies.
A study by the Stop AAPI Hate advocacy group published on Tuesday recorded 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. The group stresses that the record represents only a fraction of the number of incidents experienced by Asian Americans across the country.
Other leaders noted that hate crime legislation does not necessarily cover all forms of discrimination against Asian Americans.
“While many of the recent anti-Asian incidents may not fall within the legal definition of a hate crime, these attacks nonetheless create an unacceptable environment of fear and terror in Asian American communities,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.
At a press conference in Atlanta Thursday morning, Georgian MP Bee Nguyen said: “Laws against hate crimes are not preventive. They are subsequently used as a law enforcement tool.”
“That is why we have to deal with xenophobia, systemic racism. That is why we have to promote the use of xenophobic language,” said Nguyen.