“Redemption on the Cheap”: Will Anti-Asian Hate Crime Legislation Work?

As the House prepares to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, experts fear that it might do little to curb violence against Asian Americans.

Kiran Misra

May 18, 2021

“Redemption on the Cheap”: Will Anti-Asian Hate Crime Legislation Work?
Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) speaks during a news conference following the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)

Violence against Asians has been rampant in America since the country’s inception. In 1907, a mob of hundreds of white men, members of the Asian Exclusion League, beat and mugged South Asians, many of them Sikh, in Bellingham, Washington — ultimately driving them out of town. Across the west coast that same year, from Vancouver to San Francisco, Asian Exclusion League members — who took umbrage at the increased presence of Asians in their communities — attacked Asians, specifically in Chinese and Japanese neighborhoods. Decades later, the Dotbusters targeted South Asian Americans in the 1980s. After 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot at his own gas station in Arizona. After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot in a Kansas restaurant. Over the past year, racially motivated attacks on Asian Americans have grown even more visible. A 75-year-old man was killed in Oakland on March 12. The Atlanta shootings on March 16 left eight dead, including six Asian women. Two Asian women, ages 65 and 85, were stabbed in San Francisco on May 6. More recently, on May 12, a woman was arrested for hitting two Asian women with a hammer in Times Square. 

Earlier this year, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino published data showing that anti-Asian violence reached an all-time high in 2020 even as hate crimes dropped overall in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In response, on April 22, the U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hates Crimes Act in an overwhelming 94-1 vote. On May 6, the U.S. House majority leader Steny Moyer (D - MD) announced that the House would vote on the legislation by the end of the month. 

The bill aims to expedite the review of COVID-19 hate crimes through the appointment of a designated Department of Justice (DOJ) employee; provide guidance for local and state federal law enforcement agencies on combating hate crimes; expand online reporting options for victims; and increase public education, data collection, and federal grant funding for police to respond to hate crimes. A hate crime is defined by the FBI as any crime in which perpetrators act based on bias against the victim’s race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender. 

But many Asian Americans and policy experts aren’t convinced that the new bill will do much to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans. Despite the plethora of bills attempting to combat it, violence against people of color, queer communities, women, and other communities remains widespread. Hate violence has only increased as legislation aimed to curb it mounts.