Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono Demand Updates on COVID-19 Hate Crimes Law from Department of Justice

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was signed into law four months ago, but little appears to have come from its passage so far. And now, two Asian American lawmakers are demanding updates from the Department of Justice on its progress and implementation.

Cynthia Silva of NBC News reported that “Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., sent a letter on Sept. 20 to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the implementation of key provisions of the act that are ‘critical to its effectiveness.’”

“The letter — which highlights the increased violence toward older Asians and the Atlanta-area spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent — follows a recent FBI report that showed that the number of hate crimes last year was the highest in more than a decade,” Silva reported.

In their correspondence, Sen. Hirono and Rep. Meng wrote: “We request your attention to these matters and periodic updates on your progress as you continue to implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and work to reduce the violence from xenophobia and hate in our country.”

Officials with the Justice Department confirmed the letter had been received but declined to comment further.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, co-sponsored by Hirono and Meng, was signed into law on May 20 by President Joe Biden and received bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress. The Act directed the Justice Department to “expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes that were reported to law enforcement agencies to help them create ways to report such incidents online and to conduct public outreach.”

In their letter to the DOJ, Hirono and Meng voiced support for efforts already underway to combat hate crimes, but they also asked the Justice Department to do more. Suggestions included establishing the creation of an online system for reporting hate crimes and other biased incidents, as well as expanding public education campaigns in a variety of languages to raise awareness of hate crimes and the value of coming forward to report them.

“The letter referred to a recent analysis from the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate that revealed over 9,000 anti-Asian bias incidents over about 15 months during the coronavirus pandemic,” Silva reported. “Verbal harassment accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total reported incidents; shunning made up almost 17%.”

While not all acts of discrimination equate to being an actual hate crime, Hirono and Meng said, “the impetus for these actions are the same — fear and xenophobia.”

“In order to meaningfully address the root causes of this bias and hostility, we need a clear and full picture of the scope of the problem,” the pair wrote. “Data on hate crimes alone is insufficient.”

Finally, Hirono and Meng also asked the DOJ to apply the new Hate Crimes Act to all hate crimes occurring during the pandemic. They cited increased antisemitic attacks in the spring, as well as the deaths of at least 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people last year as further examples of the hate crimes that continue to take place in the United States and our ongoing need to bring them to an end.

“The letter ended by sharing fears that as the pandemic continues, frustration over the virus ‘will undoubtedly resurface,’” Silva said.

“We fear the impact this could have on perpetuating hate-based violence against people,” Hirono and Meng wrote. “Full implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act will help stem the tide against further violence.”

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.