Lawmakers condemn anti-Asian rhetoric at hearing following shootings

Lawmakers condemn anti-Asian rhetoric at hearing following shootings
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The House Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee on Thursday held a hearing denouncing the concerning rise of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans during the pandemic and highlighting the incendiary rhetoric that many believe has contributed to increased bigotry.

It was the first meeting Congress has held on anti-Asian bias in the country in more than 30 years, and comes two days after a string of shootings in Atlanta by a white man on Tuesday night left eight people dead, including six Asian women.

“For many Asian Americans, Tuesday's shocking events felt like the inevitable culmination of a year in which there were nearly 3,800 reported incidents of anti-Asian hate incidents that grew increasingly more violent over time as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened,” subpanel Chairman Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOmar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia Trump says being impeached twice didn't change him: 'I became worse' Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Tenn.) said in his opening statements, referring to a recent study from the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate.


A separate study from California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism showed that while overall hate crimes dropped slightly in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 of the country’s largest cities skyrocketed nearly 150 percent.

“When politicians use terms like ‘China Virus’ or ‘Kung Flu’ … is the effect — intentional or not — of putting a target on the backs of all Asian Americans,” Cohen said.

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE often described the coronavirus as such and many Republican members of Congress have continued to use the racist and incendiary terms.

Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuOmar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy Omar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats lay out vision for Civilian Climate Corps | Manchin to back controversial public lands nominee | White House details environmental justice plan MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuCourt finds Democratic donor Ed Buck guilty of all charges in connection to two men's deaths Press: Give those unemployed writers a job! Post-Trump, Biden seeks to restore US relations with Holy See MORE (D-Calif.) — who both spoke at the hearing — torched such rhetoric on Wednesday, in the aftermath of the shootings.

“What we can say and should say clearly and unambiguously is that blaming the AAPI community for a public health crisis is racist and wrong, and continuing to treat our fellow Americans as others only furthers divides our country,” Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders MORE (D-Ill.) said.

The hearing featured two panels: one with Asian American members of Congress and another with lawyers, scholars and public figures.


The overwhelming consensus among speakers was that Asian American hate has a long systemic history in the U.S.

Many speakers highlighted past laws that openly discriminated against Asian Americans, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1924 and the nationwide internment of Japanese Americans during the second World War.

Erika Lee, award-winning author and director of the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center, said during her testimony that it’s “vital” to realize the rise of hate incidents against Asian Americans are “not random acts perpetrated by deranged individuals.”

Rather, Lee characterized the hate acts as an “expression of our country's long history of systemic racism targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

“Unfortunately, it is very American,” Lee said.

Republican members of the panel offered their condolences to the families of the victims of Tuesday’s violence, but opted to spend much of their allotted time to talk about the overall proliferation of crime in the country and the discrimination against Asian Americans in the classroom.

In particular, Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyHouse GOP stages mask mandate protest House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden House at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate MORE (R-Texas) drew the ire of his Democratic colleagues with his opening statement, in which he blamed the pandemic on the Chinese Communist Party and argued that any policies that would criminalize hate speech would infringe upon free speech.

“We shouldn't be worried about having a committee of members of Congress policing our rhetoric, because some evildoers go engage in some evil activity as occurred in Atlanta, Georgia,” Roy said.

“Who decides what is hate? Who decides what is the kind of speech that deserves policing?” Roy questioned.

Rep. Grace MengGrace MengHouse Democrats include immigration priorities as they forward DHS funding bill Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer House sends anti-Asian hate bill to Biden's desk MORE (D-N.Y.) in particular pushed back against Roy’s sentiments.

“Your president, and your party, and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don't have to do it by putting a bull's eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country,” Meng said, choking up in the process. “This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, to find solutions and we will not let you take our voice away from us.”

Last Thursday, Meng and Rep. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration Top FBI official advises Congress against banning ransomware payments MORE (D-Hawaii) introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would specifically combat the proliferation of hate incidents against Asian Americans by designating a dedicated Justice Department official to “to facilitate the expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes and reports of any such crime to Federal, State, or local law enforcement agencies.”

Atlanta law enforcement officials have shied away from calling the killings a hate crime, instead referencing the shooter’s alleged “sex addiction” in a press conference Wednesday.

Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonHouse ethics panel decides against probe after Hank Johnson civil disobedience Jackson Lee is third CBC member in three weeks to be arrested protesting for voting rights 'Good Trouble': Black caucus embraces civil disobedience MORE (D), whose district covers southeast Atlanta, remarked in the hearing that whether they were “sex-based or race-based,” the killings were undoubtedly “hate-based” and targeted against Asian women.

“If genocide against Native Americans and slavery are our nation’s original sin, then harassment and violence against Asian Americans is its progeny,” Johnson said.