Asian American lawmakers testified Thursday about the rise in violence against Asians since the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for a change in rhetoric from Republicans and legislative action to curb the trend.
The House Judiciary subcommittee hearing was the first in 34 years on violence against Asians in the United States, stemming from reports of nearly 3,800 anti-Asian crimes in the last year and an increase in hostile anti-Asian comments about the pandemic online.
That hearing was set even before a deadly attack Tuesday on three Asian businesses in the Atlanta area, where six Asian women were among the eight people who were fatally shot.
“His targets are no accident,” California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told the subcommittee. “What we know is that this day was coming.”
New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng expressed the need for legislation she introduced along with Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono. That bill includes provisions to designate a point person at the Justice Department to expedite the review of violent hate crimes motivated by the actual or perceived relationship to the spread of COVID-19, and also seeks to ease reporting of such incidents.
“Our community is bleeding. We are in pain, and for the last year we’ve been screaming out for help,” Meng testified.
Previously, on the floor, Meng has said one-third of Americans witnessed someone blaming Asian Americans for the coronavirus and 8 of 10 Asian American-Pacific Islander youth reported bullying or harassment because of their race, and she cited attacks on elderly Asian Americans.
On Thursday, her voice cracking, she joined other Democrats to rebuke Republicans on the committee for former President Donald Trump’s constant and deliberate use of slurs to wrongly associate Asian Americans with the coronavirus.
“Your president, and your party and your colleagues, can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bull’s-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids,” Meng said.
The House voted 243-164 in September on a resolution to condemn all forms of anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19, with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans.
Chu testified that she also backs a bill introduced by Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer that would create Justice Department grants for state and local governments to combat hate crimes.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler did not say Thursday whether he would hold committee votes on those bills. But he noted that “one of the largest increases in the country of hatred and violence against Asian Americans has occurred in my own congressional district in New York City.”
At about the same time as the hearing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Joe Biden “strongly supports” the aims of Meng and Hirono’s legislation.
Psaki said that Biden issued a presidential memorandum in his first week in office that directed the attorney general to support state and local agencies in Asian American communities to prevent hate crimes and expand data collection and public reporting.
“That is ongoing; the outreach and engagement from DOJ is already underway,” Psaki said.
She added that Biden has asked two members of the White House team, former Rep. Cedric L. Richmond and Susan Rice, to lead an effort to engage with the Asian American community.
Biden also ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims in the Atlanta-area shooting, and he will meet with lawmakers and community members when he travels to Georgia on Friday.
California Republican Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel testified to condemn the increase in violence but also highlighted their concerns with race-based admissions to schools and universities that limit how many Asian Americans are accepted.
Several of the lawmakers highlighted the long history of anti-Asian sentiment in the history of the United States, including Rep. Doris Matsui, who told the story of how she was born in an internment camp where Japanese Americans from the West Coast were forced to live during World War II.
Matsui noted that it took decades for Congress to hear testimony about that dark chapter. And how her late husband, Rep. Bob Matsui, who spent time in an internment camp as a child, devoted much of his time in Congress to passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which government apologized for the treatment.
“Today’s hearing is another reminder that our country is capable of growth,” Matsui said. “That this legislative body will no longer sit in silence when our communities suffer racism and hatred.”