Asian American community at ‘crisis’ point, leaders in Congress say: NPR

Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Wencong Fa testified in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee on Thursday.

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Alex Wong / Getty Images

Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Wencong Fa testified in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee on Thursday.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Asian American leaders said Thursday the community was in “crisis” following shootings in the Atlanta area earlier this week that killed eight, including six Asian women.

Authorities said it was too early to determine whether the suspect will be charged with a hate crime, but on Thursday Representative Judy Chu, D-Calif., Said the shooter’s targets “were not an accident. “.

“What we do know is that day was coming,” she said. “The Asian American community has reached a point of crisis that cannot be ignored.”

Chu was one of more than a dozen witnesses who testified before lawmakers Thursday on Capitol Hill in a hearing on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans.

Her and others Asian American lawmakers requested a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last month as they demand federal action in response to attacks on their communities during the pandemic that range from verbal harassment to physical assault .

An upsurge in attacks

From last March to February of this year, the Stop AAPI Hate organization documented at least 3,795 such attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since they began tracking hate incidents. last year.

The upsurge in recent anti-Asian attacks has swept through the country. There was a 27-year-old man who was assaulted in Los Angeles last month and an 83-year-old woman who was punched and spit up in White Plains, NY last week. And Asian American seniors have been targeted in the Bay Area of ​​California.

Stop AAPI Hate has identified women, young people and older people of Asian descent as particularly vulnerable groups. Almost 70% of the incidents they documented were reported by women.

Representative Chu and others said on Thursday that former President Donald Trump “stoked” anti-Asian hatred by using phrases such as “kung flu” and “Chinese plague” to deflect blame for his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In his opening remarks, Representative Chip Roy, R-Texas, said he was concerned the hearing was about “the rhetoric policing”, but Representative Grace Meng, DN.Y., and others witnesses rejected his comments.

“Your president, party and colleagues can discuss issues with any other country you choose,” Meng said. “But you don’t have to do it by putting a target on the backs of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our children.”

The fear “is very real”

On Tuesday evening, as word spread that six of the victims killed in the Atlanta area were of Asian descent, Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, said the violence in Atlanta was an “unspeakable tragedy” for them. Asian Americans “already reeling from high levels of racial discrimination.”

“I just had to take a break,” Kulkarni said, “because now it’s kind of the next level.”

Kulkarni was among the witnesses who spoke on Capitol Hill Thursday. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and US Representative Doris Matsui, D-Calif .; Young Kim, R-Calif .; and Michelle Steel, R-Calif also testified.

Other witnesses included civil rights activists such as John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and actor Daniel Dae Kim.

“What is happening now and over the next few months will send a message to generations to come as to whether we count,” Kim said Thursday. “You may think of us as statistically insignificant now, but another fact that has no alternative is that we are the fastest growing racial demographic in the country.”

Yang said on Wednesday that while there are many unknowns about the Atlanta suspect’s motives, the attack underscores the importance of Thursday’s hearing.

“What we do know is that the fear, anger and grief in our Asian American community is very real,” he said. “I want to make sure we give a voice to this.”

In addition to advocating for resources for victims and their communities, including mental health services, Yang said he aims to call on lawmakers to publicly condemn racist attacks.

He added that in order to avoid further incidents, it will take an educational effort to combat pervasive racial stereotypes, including “the myth of the model minority, the perpetual myth of the stranger and in particular with regard to what happened in Atlanta, the sexualization of Asian women. ”

Kulkarni of Stop AAPI Hate also said she will advocate Thursday for federal funding for local programs that provide direct support and case management to victims of hate incidents. She and Yang have both said they would like to see a more developed federal civil rights infrastructure that would tackle discrimination that falls below the level of a crime.

Awareness of the Biden administration

The House court hearing is part of a broader federal response that Asian American leaders have called for under an administration they see more responsive to their concerns than that of Trump.

President Biden said on Wednesday that he “made no connection” between the recent attacks on Asian Americans and the shootings in Atlanta and that he would wait to say more until an investigation by the Minister. FBI and the Department of Justice be terminated.

“Whatever the motivation here, I know Asian Americans are very worried,” he said from the Oval Office. “As you know, I have spoken about the brutality against Asian Americans over the past two months and I think it is very, very embarrassing.”

In January, Biden signed a memorandum condemning racism and xenophobia against AAPI communities and in his first prime-time speech last week he denounced “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, which have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoats “.

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, attended a White House listening session for AAPI leaders earlier this month. She said when Trump was in power she would watch for a “spike in attacks” when someone in the White House used the term “Chinese virus.” By comparison, Yoo said, the tone of Biden’s listening session at the White House was “surreal.”

“You can’t have one meeting and say OK, we’ve heard you, we’re done,” she said. “But I think we walked away saying ‘wow, that’s different.'”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden’s domestic policy team and the Justice Department continued to hold listening sessions like the one Yoo attended.

On Friday, Biden and Vice President Harris will travel to Atlanta to meet with Asian American leaders, reporting a political event that had been planned in the state.

Congress action

Representative Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, are also pushing for congressional action against violence targeting Asian Americans. Last week, they reintroduced a bill that would designate a Justice Department employee to undertake a fast-track review of hate crimes linked to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 hate crime law would also encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to report incidents online in multiple languages, expand education campaigns, and publish tips on the issue. attenuation of “racially discriminatory language” in the description of the pandemic.

But Yoo and Kulkarni both warned ahead of Thursday’s hearing that relying on law enforcement would not solve what they see as a broader racism problem.

“People say we need cops, but a lot of what’s going on isn’t criminal,” Yoo said.

According to Kulkarni, at least 90% of the cases reported to Stop AAPI Hate in the past year were hate incidents rather than hate crimes. She said that while these incidents, like verbal harassment on the streets or discrimination in the workplace, cannot be considered hate crimes, they “do have an impact on the lives of Asian Americans and Islanders. of the Pacific “.

“The focus is on the hate crimes part,” Kulkarni said. “Corn [policy makers] just won’t deal with most of what happens to Asian Americans if that’s all they do. ”

Yang of the AAJA sees Thursday’s hearing as an opportunity to convey the severity with which the recent attacks have affected Asian-American communities.

“I hope that because of this testimony [lawmakers] will have the courage to speak out against the violence and to give visibility and protection to the Asian American community, “he said.” I hope they will understand why what is happening now has been so deeply traumatic. ”

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