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U.S. Civil Rights Commission agrees to Senate Democrats’ demands to combat anti-Asian racism

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has agreed to the demands outlined by a group of Senate Democrats advocating for more “concrete steps” in combating the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), reports NBC . 

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

The senators called upon the Civil Rights Division to implement the measures.

In response, the commission reportedly voted unanimously to address the spike in anti-Asian racism amid the pandemic and issue protocol to federal agencies in how to prevent it. 

These measures include requiring federal civil rights offices to secure rights within their jurisdiction as well as demanding federal officials to demonstrate the protection of all communities regardless of race or national origin. The commission also emphasized that federal agencies improve civil rights performance by “disaggregating data and improving data collection, prioritizing civil rights in highest level agency strategic planning, and increasing necessary staffing,” according to NBC

“In this instance, this type of engagement might include working with Asian American organizations or organizations that provide assistance to Asian residents in our country to provide leadership and assurance that anti-Asian harassment, slurs, bullying, aggression, and violence are not to be tolerated and provide a direct line of communication for organizations to report instances of the same,” the commission document read.

According to the NBC report, prior to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ vote, “there had been no such coordinated effort across the federal government on combating the discrimination and attacks.” 

In April, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) similarly reported that “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.”

Amid the national surge in anti-Asian discrimination, groups like the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, have launched a reporting site on March 19 to monitor hate incidents– the group reportedly received more than 1,100 reports in just two weeks. The majority of reports involved verbal attacks, but the reports also involved cases of physical assaults, job discrimination, vandalism, and businesses denying service to Asian customers, according to Manjusha Kulkarni, the group’s executive director. 

The New York City Human Rights Commission also recently launched a similar initiative by creating a team dedicated to responding to COVID-19 discrimination as reports of anti-Asian racism rise in the city, reports CNN.

Since February, the commission has received 248 reports of harassment and discrimination related to the coronavirus, more than 40 percent targeting individuals of Asian descent–a steep rise from the five anti-Asian discrimination incidents reported during the same time last year, according to the commission’s records.

“All New Yorkers are facing extraordinary levels of stress right now; discrimination and harassment should not be among them,” NYC Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis told CNN. “Even in the midst of a pandemic, human rights cannot be violated, and we encourage anyone who has experienced Covid-19-related discrimination to report it to us.”

Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), one of the lead signatories in the original letter to the Department of Justice, expressed that the commission’s response was a “good first step” in combating anti-Asian racism. 

“Federal agencies should heed the USCCR’s guidance to use all the tools at their disposal to stem the tide of discrimination against Asian Americans that President Trump and his administration have been stoking,” Hirono told NBC.

Frustrations surrounding federal responses to anti-Asian discrimination have only been exacerbated by President Trump’s and his administration’s referral to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and the “Kung Flu” as well as the treatment of Asian American journalists at White House press briefings

 Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill), another central signatory of the letter to the Department of Justice, affirmed that “The enemy in the fight against COVID-19 isn’t the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all,” she told NBC.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) also helped spearhead the letter with Sens. Mazie Hirono ( D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth  (D-Ill.), saying in a statement to NBC that she was “glad” to see this development from the commission and that she will continue to work toward ensuring the enforcement of these measures. 

“My colleagues and I will keep pushing to ensure the federal government is using all tools available to keep families safe,” Warren noted.

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