More than 80 Asian and LGBTQ organizations signed a letter opposing the federal COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, stating that bringing more police into communities of color would contribute to deadly violence.
The House of Representatives has yet to take up the COVID-19 Hate Crime Act, but last month the Senate passed by a 94-1 margin, with only Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri voting against it. Backed by President Joe Biden, this legislation would expedite the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) review of hate crimes and delegate an official at the department to oversee the process. It would increase coordination between federal officials and local law enforcement, while also boosting public education efforts.
However, several organizations, including GAPIMNY – Empowering Queer and Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, Equality New York, and the Audre Lorde Project, are concerned that the legislation lacks a public health response to the bias-fueled attacks against Asian-Americans, which have surged dramatically in New York City and nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The bill would not provide any resources that address root causes of anti-Asian bias and would not provide resources for violence prevention,” noted the letter, which was also signed by other local groups including Red Canary Song, the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “The bill in its current form would create no systemic change to address racism, only increase crime statistics collection.”
Advocates blasted the legislation’s use of law enforcement as “anti-Black” and demanded more research that could examine the social issues contributing to the recent uptick in incidents.
“The economic distress, the homelessness, the ways that COVID has just devastated so many communities and amid the increase in mental health issues — all of that is driving the violence against Asian people, ” Chai Jindasurat, a member of GAPIMNY, told Gay City News. “Because Asian people have been scapegoated for COVID. ”
In the letter, the organizations said the legislation fails to offer the proper response to the rise in violence.
“While we wish we could celebrate the historic visibility of anti-Asian violence and racism, which is as old as the colonization of the Americas, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act contradicts Asian solidarity with Black, Brown, undocumented, trans, low-income, sex worker, and other marginalized communities whose liberation is bound together,” the letter stated.
They added, “Furthermore, the bolstering of law enforcement and criminalization does not keep us safe and in fact harms and furthers violence against Asian communities facing some of the greatest disparities and attacks… It also ignores that police violence is also anti-Asian violence, which has disproportionately targeted Black and Brown Asians.”
According to the bill’s text, the legislation would also establish grants to create state-run hate crime reporting hotlines, and it requires the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services to raise awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic. Plus, if someone is convicted of a hate crime and placed on supervised release, the bill requires that individual to complete educational classes or community service.
The groups want to allocate resources away from law enforcement, including removing police from communities and increasing access to mental healthcare, neighborhood trauma centers, and community food banks. Advocates said tackling bias as a public health issue means “no partnerships, contracts, and arrangements between law enforcement and other entities, including data-sharing agreements.”
In the letter, advocates also pointed to the 2009 passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, which included sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crime legislation. Advocates noted that despite this law, transgender people of color continue to experience high levels of violence, underscoring the need to change the “structural conditions that lead to violence against marginalized communities.”
The bill, which follows a jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, comes against the backdrop of the police shooting of an unarmed 32-year-old Black gay man in Virginia last month, as well as the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man in Minnesota, and Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio.
“If you feel safe calling the police, then that is a privilege,” Jindasurat said. “The police are still not safe for trans people, for trans women of color who are experiencing disproportionate violence and murder, year after year, the police are not safe for undocumented LGBTQ and Asian community members.”
He added, “They are not safe for everybody, so we have to think bigger.”
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