US House passes hate crimes Bill after Asian-American attacks

People attend the Stop Asian Hate rally at Times Square in New York City on April 4, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The US House passed by a wide bipartisan margin legislation to combat hate crimes across the country, a measure sparked by a sharp rise in attacks against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The 364-62 vote comes just weeks after the Senate passed the same legislation and sends it to President Joe Biden, who called for speedy action after March's shootings by a white gunman at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead. The victims included six women of Asian descent.

While the Bill bolsters resources for addressing hate crimes more broadly, supporters said it will send a clear message to the Asian American community that steps are being taken to curb an alarming increase in assaults and threats.

"Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of Covid-19, and as a result Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on and even set on fire," Representative Grace Meng, a New York Democrat and lead sponsor of the Bill, said.

"The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has "seen the pain" in her own district that includes San Francisco and its expansive Asian American community. She called it an "epidemic" that is "a challenge to the conscience of our country which demands bold, aggressive action."

Mr Biden plans to sign the legislation later this week, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter.

The legislation requires the Justice Department to conduct a review of hate crimes, and to provide guidance to state and local governments to enable them to establish online reporting of hate crimes and expand public education campaigns to raise awareness of such assaults.

It also provides grants for states to establish state-wide hate crimes reporting hotlines and improve their training to better identify and report them.

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A hate crimes bill to combat violence against Asian Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic passed the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly on Tuesday.

Backers of the Bill cited the language of former President Donald Trump and some of his allies, who routinely called Covid-19 the "Chinese virus" or the "Wuhan Virus" because of its origins, for inflaming prejudice.

Separately, the House will vote on Wednesday on a non-binding resolution that condemns the March 16 Atlanta-area shootings and acts of violence against Asian Americans.

The resolution, led by Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat, condemns the "heinous and inexcusable acts of gun violence" that sparked the shootings. It also takes on some of the rhetoric used by the former president and his allies, calling it the cause of some acts of harassment and violence.

An estimated 3,800 hate crime incidents against people of Asian descent were recorded between March 19, 2020 - around when lock downs started - and Feb 28, 2021, according to the tracking initiative Stop AAPI Hate. Most were verbal harassment and shunning, but 11 per cent of them were physical assaults.

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