What, Why, Next: The Hate Crimes Bill and Stop Asian Hate




A bill incentivised to help fight anti-Asian hate crimes was signed into law by president Biden on 20 May. It aims to speed up the review of hate crimes, help with reporting and improve outreach efforts. What does this mean in practice? Grants will be made available to State and local governments to help "prevent, address, and respond" to hate crimes. 

These initiatives will help combat the historic under-counting of hate crimes by the Asian American community and improve the overall infrastructure needed for hate crime reporting, data collection, and justice

Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote.

Part of these grants will be put toward creating hate crime reporting hotlines to direct callers to law enforcement and local support services. The new law will also see the Justice Department assist state and local law enforcement agencies in improving their collection and reporting of hate crime data.

This is important as the bill itself acknowledges how poor data collection has hampered efforts to understand the matter.

A complete understanding of the national problem posed by hate crimes is hindered by incomplete data from Federal, State and local jurisdictions through the Uniform Crime Reports programme

Only two days prior, the bill passed by 364-62 votes in the House of Representatives, having only needed two-thirds of the vote to pass. A month earlier, the Senate had overwhelmingly voted in favour of passing the bill, with Republican Josh Hawley standing as the lone voice against it.

For centuries, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, diverse and vibrant communities have helped build this nation only to be often stepped over, forgotten, or ignored. My message to all of those who are hurting is, we see you. And the Congress has said, we see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias."

President Joe Biden


The spate of Anti-Asian hate crimes over the past 12 months combined with the subsequent protests have been the spark behind the legislative change. Notable anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported in Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco and New York, which has seen a 223% rise in hate crime when comparing the first quarters of 2020 and 2021. In fact, a comparison of hate crime across 16 of the largest cities and counties showed a 164% increase when comparing the first three months of the year alone. This has resulted in rallies across the country.

The latest national report from Stop AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Hate reveals similarly troubling trends. The group's findings rely on self-reported cases from individuals and bystanders, but their data shows that Asian-Americans had been targeted on at least 2,410 occasions during the first three months of 2021. This figure is nearly half of all reported incidents (4,193) from March 2020 through to the end of last year.

The death of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, during a shooting rampage across Asian spas and massage parlours in March intensified the urgency behind putting down a legislative marker and protecting Asian-Americans. Less than a week before the tragic events in Atlanta, congressional Democrats had already introduced the hate crime bill in response to public outrage concerning anti-Asian hate.

Jill and I share the nation’s grief and outrage at the horrific killings of eight people, among them six Asian American women, in Georgia on March 16th. While we do not yet know the motive, as I said last week, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing crisis of gender-based and anti-Asian violence that has long plagued our nation. I urge Congress to swiftly pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act."

Joe Biden, in response to Asian spa shootings, 19th March 2021


Because we passed this legislation, and it’s now law, does not change the hearts and minds of people who would bear animus for AAPI’s, and who think of us as the other and the perpetual foreigners, that they can attack us,”

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono

Sen. Hirono's remarks echoed the general reaction in the aftermath of the bill's passage, and this offers a useful indication as to where campaigning efforts may focus next. Since the protests began in several cities in March, activists and academics have repeatedly emphasised the importance of confronting the pervasive nature of anti-Asian prejudice within society.

Education is one such area. Scrutiny of how ignorance of Asian culture shapes Asian-American bigotry has prompted organisations such as Learning for Justice to rally in support of a stronger Asian-American presence in schooling.

Currently, the teaching of Asian-American history is largely overlooked in the K-12 curriculum (the period covering kindergarten to 12th grade). Activists have argued that the erasure of Asian-American contribution to the country feeds into broader stereotypes of Asians being quiet and meek, just two of the cornerstones behind the harmful Model-Minority myth. 

February's article on #StopAsianHate offered an overview of how these stereotypes perpetuate the 'othering' of Asians in the West. This focused on the issue from a UK perspective but there are parallels to be drawn with how this myth propagates depictions of Asians as being passive, overly deferential and one–dimensional.

Sohyun An, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, gave an event more important assessment on how Asian-American erasure from the curriculum ingrains these issues. "If we don't teach about Asian American history, it's not only letting non-Asian people to treat us as non-humans, but it is also a curriculum of violence because it kills humanity and agency. . . . My country doesn't treat me as a somebody".

With the Asian American Education Bill having passed the Illinois House of Representatives in a 108-10 vote, Illinois is now poised to become the first US state to require Asian-American history is taught in public schools. Campaigners are looking to see this bill replicated elsewhere with as many as 10 other states said to be weighing up similar measures. 

However, the battleground for progress is not limited to education, and campaign groups are still looking for a stronger legislative change; indeed, many have criticised the Hate Crime Bill for not going far enough in addressing the deep-seated nature of anti-Asian prejudice.

Not only do hate crimes laws not prevent anti-Asian violence—they do nothing to remedy the harms after the violence occurred. After each attack, victims and their families are left to crowdfund to pay for healthcare, funeral expenses, and loss of income. Hate crimes laws are narrowly focused on punishment and punishment alone.

Jason Wu of GAPIMNY—Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders.

Wu contends that bolstering law enforcement capabilities at the expense of valuable dollars being given to communities is an ineffective response to the root cause of the problem. He argues that this is especially true given that a number of these incidents have occurred in some of the country's most heavily policed areas such as New York City's Times Square.

Wu's broader concerns with how the Hate Crime Bill strengthens law enforcement have been shared by several other groups. More than 100 organisations comprising Asian-American and LGBTQ groups opposed the Hate Crimes Bill on this very notion. Even the leading advocacy groups that welcomed the bill such as Stop AAPI and Human Rights Campaign all noted that investment in affected communities will be critical in reducing hate crimes.

Last Friday, President Biden signed an executive order renewing a White House commitment to advance "equity, justice, and opportunity" for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPI). Included in his speech was the admission that for too long many Asian-Americans had faced “systemic barriers” that put the “American dream” beyond reach. Activists and civil society groups will continue to spotlight these issues as America opens up to dialogue about anti-Asian bigotry.

To continue this trend of acknowledgement to action, a greater emphasis on the systemic nature of Asian-American prejudice will be required. It's what a growing number of campaigners are demanding. 

Mayowa Ayodele


Articles to read:

To Dismantle Anti-Asian Racism, We Must Understand Its Roots - by Lily Zheng

Nation’s first school mandate on AAPI history heads to Illinois governor - by Shia Kapos

Will a new law to tackle hate crimes make Asians in America safer? | Pro/Con - feat. Van C. Tran and Jason Wu

A ‘History of Exclusion, of Erasure, of Invisibility.’ Why the Asian-American Story Is Missing From Many U.S. Classrooms - by Olivia B. Waxman