U.S. President Joe Biden signed a hate crimes bill to combat violence against Asian Americans into law on Thursday, forcefully condemning what he said was the “silence” that has “let hate flourish”.
The bill addresses hate crimes against Asian Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and received rare overwhelming bipartisan support in the Congress.
In the Senate, the bill passed 94-1, with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley the only no vote.
The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic had put a spotlight on a long standing problem, Biden said.
“All of this hate hides in plain sight… and too often it is met with silence,” he said.
“For centuries, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, diverse and vibrant communities have helped build this nation only to be often stepped over, forgotten or ignored.”
Reports of violence against Asian Americans have spiked since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Activists and police said anti-Asian sentiment was fed by comments from former President Donald Trump blaming the pandemic on China using terms such as “kung flu.”.
The bill, authored by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono and Representative Grace Meng, designates a Justice Department employee to expedite a review of hate crimes reported to police during the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides guidance for local law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes, expand public education campaigns and combat discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.
“I’m proud today. I’m proud today of the United States. I’m proud today of our political system, the United States Congress. I’m proud today that Democrats and Republicans have stood up together, to say something,” Biden said.
In one sign of bipartisanship, the Senate voted 92-6 on April 14 to advance the measure, and senators from both parties worked on changes.
One change, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, will provide funds to improve reporting of hate crimes and expand resources for victims. It was named after Khalid Jabara, an Arab-American killed by a neighbor in 2016, and Heather Heyer, killed in 2017 when a car drove into counter-protesters after a white supremacist rally in Virginia.