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U.S. Senators urge Justice Department to take concrete steps in combating AAPI hate crimes

Anti-Asian acts range from physical attacks to vandalism

U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) joined 14 other Democrat senators in calling upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to take more “concrete steps” in combating the rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports WHSV

In a letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, the senators expressed their “deep concern” about the surge in discrimination directed against AAPIs and urged the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ to take more active measures in responding to the rise in racism and xenophobia. 

“We write to express our deep concern about the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike,” reads the letter. “We strongly urge you to take concrete steps to address the disturbing increase in anti-Asian discrimination, as the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has done in the past.” 

According to the Center for Public Integrity(CPI), “Neither the Justice Department nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced efforts to prevent the public targeting of Asians, which ranges from bias incidents to hate crimes. Both agencies were quick to act in similar situations: the CDC during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak and the Justice Department after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” 

Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband reportedly assured that the Justice Department will prosecute hate crimes against AAPIs and others to the “fullest extent of the law”, but has yet to propose a plan to counteract the rise in racism, details CPI

“I haven’t seen anything,” Stewart Kwoh, founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles told CPI. “We haven’t heard anything from … any of the federal agencies that they will be of assistance in tackling the problem. … If they really are serious about it, they are going to have to have a major outreach campaign.”

Acknowledging the warnings of public health experts that the use of stigmatized language risks fueling anti-Asian sentiment, the senators criticized President Donald Trump and his administration’s referral to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” as well as the “Kung Flu”. 

The senators further emphasized the contributions of AAPIs in fighting against COVID-19 and the need to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected. 

“There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers,” the letter continues. “It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic.” 

Discussing the rise in Asian hate crimes, the senators cited the stabbing of an Asian American family–a father and his two children ages 2 and 6–by a man who thought they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus,” according to KTSM

Data collected by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council was also sourced in the letter, which reported that the STOP AAPI HATE reporting center had received nearly 1,500 reports of coronavirus-related harassment against AAPI individuals across the country. 

“Asian Americans are still facing racism and xenophobia related to the #COVID19 pandemic,” tweeted Asian American Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who signed the letter. “That’s one reason why @SenatorDurbin [Richard Durbin] and I joined @maziehirono in calling on @TheJusticeDept to take concrete steps to address the surge in hate crimes and discrimination against this community.”

The senators called upon the Civil Rights Division to implement the measures below immediately:

  • Develop and publicly release a plan that sets forth how the Civil Rights Division will address the increase in discrimination and hate crimes against AAPI individuals;
  • Designate a DOJ official responsible for coordinating (a) a review of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 and (b) an interagency response to this issue;
  • Provide monthly reports to Congress on the (a) number of incidents of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 received—disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender, and (b) status of related cases that are pending;
  •  Conduct extensive outreach in partnership with community-based organizations and regularly meet with AAPI community leaders; and
  • Distribute materials explaining civil rights protections in diverse languages used by AAPI communities.

The letter concluded with a request that the “Civil Rights Division respond by May 15, 2020, to inform Congress what steps the Division has taken in response to the jump in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes since the COVID-19 outbreak began.”

The signatories are Sens. Warner, Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

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