President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law on Thursday, a response to the sharp rise in anti-Asian violence over the past year during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are simple core values that should bring us together as Americans — one of them is standing together against hate, against racism, the ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation,” Biden said at the White House ahead of the signing, telling legislators in the room that today, “you’ve taken a first step.”
The president added that many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have “lived here for generations and are still considered by some the ‘other.’”
“It’s wrong,” Biden said. “My message to all of those who are hurting is, ‘We see you.’”
The legislation from Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) would expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes and direct law enforcement to improve how people can report such incidents, as well as better collect data and expand public awareness campaigns about hate crimes.
The bill overwhelmingly passed in the Senate in April and in the House earlier this week.
Since last year, Asian Americans have reported a surge in racist violence, often related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders rose by 150% in major U.S. cities, according to one study.
Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups, recorded some 6,600 reports of racist violence against Asian Americans from March 2020 through March 2021. People reported being targeted with racial slurs, spat on and physically assaulted. Women made up nearly two-thirds of those who reported being attacked.
In her own remarks ahead of the signing, Vice President Kamala Harris said: “History will remember this day and this moment, when our nation took action to combat hate.”
“It did not come from nowhere, none of it is new. In my life, in my lived experience, I have seen how hate can pervade our communities,” said Harris, who is the first Asian American and Black vice president. “The work to address injustice wherever it is remains ahead.”
Former President Donald Trump notoriously perpetuated anti-Asian racism by using racist language to refer to the pandemic, including calling it the “Kung Flu” and “the China virus.”
“Asian Americans have the right to be recognized as Americans, not as the other. Not as ‘them,’ but as ‘us,’” Harris said at another event Wednesday on AAPI unity. “As a member of this community, I share in that outrage and grief.”
Hirono introduced the new legislation after a white man shot eight people dead — including six women of Asian descent — at massage spas in Georgia in March.
Some Asian American groups have raised concerns about the new legislation, saying that by zeroing in on hate crimes, the bill does not address the root causes of anti-Asian violence. They are instead calling for longer-term investments in communities’ health and economic well-being.