Biden signs hate crime bill
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, reaches for President Biden after signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that overwhelmingly passed Congress in a rare show of bipartisanship following a spate of high-profile attacks on Asian Americans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Silence is complicity and we cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act,” Biden told lawmakers. “That’s what you’ve done. And I can’t thank you enough. I’m proud today.”

The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 94-1 in April and the House of Representatives by 364-62 earlier this month.

The California-based Stop AAPI Hate coalition welcomed the act, but said it doesn’t go far enough in addressing “serious hate incidents” that are not actual crimes.

“The passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act demonstrates that the federal government recognizes the devastating impact of the pandemic-related racism and discrimination that the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is facing,” the coalition said in a statement.

However, the coalition argued that “to see additional change, we need legislation that addresses the root causes of systemic racism and oppression.”.

Reports of violence against Asian Americans have spiked since the start of the pandemic last year. Activists and police said anti-Asian sentiment was fed by comments from former President Donald Trump blaming the pandemic on China, using terms such as “kung flu.”

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono and Democratic Representative Grace Meng, designates a Justice Department employee to expedite a review of hate crimes reported to police during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would also provide guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes, expand public education campaigns and issue guidance to combat discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.

In a sign of the return toward normality since the start of the pandemic, the bill-signing ceremony marked the first time a large group publicly gathered unmasked inside the White House since the start of the Biden administration in January.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first African American and the first person of Asian descent to hold the office, opened the ceremony by thanking lawmakers, many of whom were present, for their work.

“To the members of our United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who helped pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, thank you,” she said. “Because of you, history will remember this day and this moment when our nation took action to combat hate.”

Reuters contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.