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House Passes Legislation Condemning Wave Of Anti-Asian Racism

The House on Thursday passed legislation condemning the wave of anti-Asian racism catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic and fueled in part by racist rhetoric from President Donald Trump.

Introduced this spring by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), the non-binding, mostly symbolic resolution “calls on all public officials to condemn and denounce any and all anti-Asian sentiment in any form” and urges federal, state and local officials to document, investigate and collect data on any reports of anti-Asian hate incidents.

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The vote, largely along party lines, was met with fierce criticism from Republicans. During more than two hours of debate on the House floor, they claimed the legislation was simply meant to attack Trump and repeatedly dismissed the magnitude of the issue.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed “there is no kitchen in America that thinks this is the priority.” 

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) claimed the bill wasn’t “really about” racism, but “Democrats ignoring the real issues plaguing Americans just for the opportunity to criticize President Trump.”

In response, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said it was “a disgrace” that the legislation did not pass unanimously and that Republicans had made it a partisan issue and perpetuated Trump’s racist rhetoric.

“Rather than condemning this divisive language and unifying our nation in response to the pandemic, my Republican colleagues are blindly following suit. This partisanship is so pervasive that Congresswoman Meng’s simple resolution, condemning this anti-Asian sentiment, could not be passed unanimously out of this chamber,” he said on the House floor. “The COVID-19 pandemic has become a defining moment in our nation’s history. Instead of unifying to confront this disease head-on, Republicans have instead weaponized this.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that many members of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are essential workers “fighting on the frontlines against the COVID-19 virus,” calling it “particularly unconscionable” that “instead of being celebrated as heroes, they are fighting violence and bigotry.”

“Yet instead of being celebrated as heroes, they are fighting violence and bigotry,” she said.

Since January, Asian Americans around the country have reported a sharp increase in racist harassment and attacks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in China at the start of 2020. Trump has further thrown gasoline on the fire, regularly referring to the virus using racial slurs and epithets and blaming China to deflect attention from his own shambolic response to the pandemic.

In March, a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups and scholars, Stop AAPI Hate, began collecting reports of these racist incidents in an online database. As of last month, they have received reports of 2,583 attacks in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The respondents’ stories include being called racial slurs, being spat on and/or physically assaulted, as well as being denied services, experiencing workplace discrimination, and other potential civil rights violations.

The groups have stressed that their data are likely an undercount, as the database is self-reported and voluntary. They’re also concerned that these kinds of attacks against Asian Americans will only continue as the November election draws closer, and as schools and other public spaces reopen.

In some states and cities, such as in New York City, officials have taken some steps to specifically address the problem, after documenting similar increases in anti-Asian racism.

The federal government, however, has done little if anything to dedicate specific resources to the problem. Beginning in March, federal officials had warned of a potential surge in hate crimes and extremism tied to the pandemic.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, mostly Democrats, have urged the Department of Justice to develop specific plans to address the surge in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, which the DOJ and federal agencies have done in response to past crises under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

In April, the Center for Public Integrity reported that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division devoted concerted efforts to address the surge in racism and Islamophobia against South Asians and American Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also had a detailed plan to combat anti-Asian harassment and discrimination in response to the SARS outbreak.

But the agencies have yet to dedicate similar efforts in response to anti-Asian racism caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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