US President Joe Biden on May 20, 2021 signed a historic legislation to halt the phenomenal rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders inside United States of America, especially amidst Pandemic. The Bill was passed by both chambers of Congress by large majority votes of 94-1 in the Senate and 364-62 in the House of Representatives. It was indeed historic and demonstrated the unity of American legislators to a great extent towards addressing an issue of great significance for American growth and development.
Seven lives were lost when shooter targeted Wisconsin gurdwara in 2012, the worst massacre against Sikhs in US. Once again, massacre of four Sikhs in a mass shooting took place at their workplace in Indianapolis where 90 percent staffers are of Punjabi descent. More recently, Buddhist temple was vandalised in Los Angeles (Little Tokyo) in February 2021 which caused a significant damage. After this incident more than 1, 000 Asian residents rallied in Tokyo district of Los Angeles. Eight lives were lost including six women of Asian descent, when US witnessed shooting in Georgia in March 2021. An Asian man was stabbed in the back in the New Yok City’s China Town. An elderly Thai immigrant died after being shoved to the ground. A Filipino-American was slashed in the face with a box cutter. A Chinese woman was slapped and then set on fire. Eight people were killed in a shooting rampage across three Asian spas in one night. Spike in violence during Pandemic was more obvious than anytime else. All these are indicative of the spurt in the hate crimes, to name but a few.
The Genesis and Its Severity
According to one research nearly 3,800 incidents were reported during the course of the Pandemic. This is a significant rise over the previous year’s count of about 2,600 hate related incidents throughout USA over the span of five months. According to the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, sixteen of the largest U.S cities saw a 164% increase in anti-Asian hate crime reports to police in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020. A California State University report has found that anti-Asian hate crimes surged nearly 150 percent in 2020. The figures produced here are only indicative and not conclusive as many such crimes go unreported, which is yet another challenge that the US administration must be wary about.
The recent spate of rise in hate crimes against Asians could have its genesis in the political rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and other Republican political leaders who accused profusely the China for the origin and spread of COVID-19 virus. The constant invocation of “China virus”, “Wuhan virus” “Kung flu” in the speeches and media appearances, made the matter worse. They also went to the extent of blaming that China has used the virus as a biological weapon to destroy the social, political and economic fabric of especially the developed world.
Recent spate of Pandemic has taken its huge toll on global economy in general and economy of most developing and developed countries in particular. Shrinking economic activities have led to shrinkage of employment opportunities. Accordingly, stabbings, shunning, shootings and other attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals and their businesses have gone escalating ever since the Pandemic started.
Salient Features of the New Law:
- The new law directs the US Department of Justice to focus on the prosecution of violent crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
- It seeks to speed the Justice Department’s review of anti-Asian Hate Crimes, and designates an official at the department to oversee the effort.
- The law will make reporting easier for victims of all types of hate crimes and provide training for local and state officials.
- The law also provides for a hotline for local prosecutors seeking guidance in handling hate crimes cases and training for law enforcement.
- It also includes the Jabara-Heyer “NO HATE” Act, which seeks to improve law enforcement reporting of hate crimes and expands community assistance and resources for victims. (The Act is titled so after Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese American who was killed by a racist neighbour in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2016 and Heather Heyer, who died in a vehicle attack during a march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Both attacks were initially not categorised as hate crimes but would be under the new law.)
The Efficacy of the New Law:
The efficacy of the law became explicit when Biden stood against hatred and racism and called it, “the ugly poison that has long haunted and plagued our nation” and appreciated the gesture revealed by Congress which brought Americans together.
Fact that the political leadership of US became serious about the problem and thought of initiating a law, including the speed and concern at which it has been done by Biden, itself speaks volume about its efficacy. The new law is quite inclusive in its approach as it addresses real cause of the problem i.e., injustice. Therefore, the efficacy of the same sounded more realistic when US Vice President, Kamala Harris acknowledged, “Racism exists in America. Xenophobia exists in America, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia—it all exists. And so, the work to address injustice, wherever it exists, remains the work ahead.”
Present legal intervention is one small step in the long fight for equity and opportunity for communities of colour. The Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have used their “electoral prowess” in an effective manner and would also demonstrate the same in future when it comes to advocate for their own community. Consequently, the political leadership has realised that containing Asian hate must not be a partisan issue. Overall, the law is efficacious for several reasons as:
- It aims to facilitate the reporting of hate crimes increasingly accessible at local and state levels;
- It boosted the public outreach;
- It ensures reporting resources are available online in multiple languages;
- It directs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19;
- It authorizes grants to state and local governments to conduct crime-reduction outreach programs to prevent and respond to hate crimes;
Thus, the law would certainly protect the people from hate and intolerance and would also deter the perpetrators of such crimes. This would help America also to address the issues like unemployment and bonhomie among citizens.
Political Mileage for Biden:
The new law amidst the rising cases of hate-crimes has jolted the American law-makers to such an extent that they all have come together against hate and racism; who otherwise stand like gladiators and agree little on anything else. This is no mean achievement on part of Biden. This also made the US President magnanimous enough to acknowledge the support extended by opposition and praised the Democrats and Republicans for working together to facilitate the enactment of the law. The political unity thus revealed is a welcome sign for future growth and development of America, especially when the global economy is into shambles amidst Pandemic. This will certainly provide greater marks to the new President.
The genesis of hate-crimes is thus chained: social crisis (Pandemic) leads to economic crisis (deterioration of global economy); economic crisis leads to unemployment (loss of jobs); unemployment contributes to social crimes (e.g., hate crimes); social crimes disrupt the social fabric leading to disunity and internal conflict. a
Accordingly, President Biden became aghast with each incident of hate crime that his dispensation came across. He had also tweeted it to be wrong and un-American. It thus made it imperative that the legal intervention is one thing to contain the escalating crime, but political intervention too is needed to evolve best practices guidelines towards reducing the racially discriminatory language that is often used to seem politically correct in the eyes of one’s ‘vote bank’ and divert the attention of citizens from the real and apparent issues when the political leadership is unable to resolve the same. This certainly amounts to ‘crisis of governability’.
Countries like Australia, Italy, Germany and France too have witnessed crimes against Asians. Escalation in hate crimes against Asian people in western countries may have many reasons. However, most important is hateful rhetoric resorted to by political leadership when they are unable to address the real problems of citizens and to divert attention of people from domestic issues of unemployment and deteriorating living standard amidst loss of economic activities. Gradually it gets embedded even within institutions like police, where it acquires its worst form of systematic discrimination and slaughter. Therefore, mere legal interventions are not adequate; and political and policy interventions too are of great importance which can put the rising aspirations of people at rest, when cohabitation would become possible in the spirit cooperation and humanity.
Fact remains that escalation in hate-crimes presents US as disunited amidst the scenario of internal conflict; whereas containment of such crimes would make their social and political unity obvious.
*Vandana Mishra PhD, Department of Political Studies, Central University of South Bihar, Freelance Researcher, Patna, Bihar, India