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Some Local AAPI Groups Dissatisfied with "COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act"

A 'Stop Asian Hate' rally marched through Cleveland's AsiaTown in March. [Gabriel Kramer/Ideastream Public Media]
A 'Stop Asian Hate' rally marched through Cleveland's AsiaTown in March. [Gabriel Kramer/Ideastream Public Media]

Between March 2020 and March 2021, more than 6,600 acts of racism toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs, were reported to STOP AAPI Hate — an online reporting center put together last year by a triumvirate of AAPI organizations.

To combat the rise of racist acts toward AAPIs, President Joe Biden signed the “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act,” but the bill left some advocacy organizations yearning for something more comprehensive.

The bill directs the Department of Justice to assign a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19. It will provide grants to state and local law enforcement agencies aiming to improve its hate crime reporting tools and to create crime reduction programs.

The bill also aims to expand public education campaigns to raise awareness of AAPI hate crimes and the causes of those hate crimes.

For some AAPI organizations and advocates, there’s an appreciation that the federal government recognizes the increase of racist acts toward AAPIs, but there’s also a feeling that this bill misses the mark on what AAPI communities have been asking for.

Tessa Xuan, a co-director of OPAWL, the Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership, acknowledges that Asian-Americans are not a monolith. There are some people who will want to see stronger law enforcement, but she said that many minorities, including AAPIs, don’t feel comfortable or safe interacting with law enforcement.

“I think for those of us who are rooted in history and rooted in wanting to be in solidarity with black and brown communities and with the parts of the AAPI community that are interacting more negatively with the law enforcement, we need our members of Congress to have more imagination when it comes to what real community safety looks like,” Xuan said.

Tessa Xuan (middle with white mask) spoke at a Stop Asian Hate rally in Cleveland earlier this year. [Gabriel Kramer / Ideastream Public Media]

Fellow OPAWL co-director Jona Hilario, said that because the focus is on the hate crimes, it’s also focused on those who commit hate crimes and doesn’t do enough to support the victims. And thinking of this racism as a crime issue, doesn’t treat it as a systemic issue.

“The fact that they went with a hate crimes bill tells you that’s what they viewed as the solution – to talk about it as a crime issue, which put the focus on individuals and not the conditions that create this kind of violence to people of a specific race,” Hilario said. 

AAPI communities are often looking for investment to improve the spaces where AAPI communities live, an increase of bystander intervention training, increasing education about the history of racism toward Asian-Americans and putting an end to terms like China Virus

OPAWL is in talks with the Ohio Senate Finance Committee asking to make amendments to the state budget. The request is for three specific items: to create the Ohio AAPI Commission and the office of Asian American affairs; to allocate money to community organizations; and to provide funding for refugee programs through the Jobs and Family Services Program Support.  

After the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was signed, the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center stated that because the bill is so centered around law enforcement, it won’t address the large number of hate incidents reported that weren’t necessarily declared as hate crimes. This could include things like racial slurs or taunts in public places.

STOP AAPI Hate put in more requests for the federal government in its statement asking for dedicated resources to communities and community based safety programs, funding to community groups to build a strong civil rights infrastructure, ways to increase exposure to AAPI voices, stories and histories in regards to education and then to strengthen federal civil rights laws that address discrimination in public places.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.