Congress will hold hearing on anti-Asian violence for the first time in more than 30 years and just days after Atlanta shootings

WASHINGTON – Congress last held a hearing on anti-Asian American discrimination more than 30 years ago. 

In November 1987, Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., acknowledged the country knew “far too little about anti-Asian prejudice and violence” and called for legislation to improve hate crime reporting in the midst of the killing of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man beaten to death by two white men who believed he was Japanese, and attacks on Indian Americans in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

Now, just days after an Atlanta-area shooting left eight people dead, the majority of whom were Asian Americans, Congress is set to hear from expert witnesses as lawmakers debate their response to a surge in anti-Asian American hate and violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee is set to hear from two panels of witnesses on Thursday morning.

The first panel is comprised of four Asian American lawmakers: Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif.; Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.; Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. 

An anti-hate crime bill championed by Chu and other lawmakers to improve hate crime reporting is likely to come up during the hearing as lawmakers consider their response to the rise in hate. Lawmakers want to improve hate crime reporting to better accommodate Asian American immigrant communities that may be less familiar with English. 

Jesus Estrella holds a sign of solidarity outside Youngs Asian Massage where four people were shot and killed on March 17, 2021 in Acworth, Georgia. (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage, Getty Images)

“Congress must also do more to address hate crimes and incidents through the passage of the NO HATE Act to ensure we are able to better track and address these incidents. We can defeat this hate, but only if we all stand together,” Chu said Wednesday in the wake of the shootings. 

Asian American lawmakers introduced legislation addressing the issue in the last Congress, but other than the House’s passage of a nonbinding resolution condemning anti-Asian bigotry and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, no legislation was signed into law. 

Though the hearings are decades apart, the lawmakers who will testify Thursday are confronted with many of the same issues.

Matsui’s late husband Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., held the seat before her and told the same panel in 1987, “what today is a pernicious problem could soon explode into a national tragedy.” Robert Matsui had noted how many Asian Americans were not reporting hate crimes after coming from totalitarian countries because of a distrust in government or a language barrier.

The second panel Thursday includes experts and advocates, including actor Daniel Dae Kim, University of Minnesota professor Erika Lee, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice president John Yang. 

Lee noted the hearings had been scheduled before the shootings, but recent events made the proceedings “even more important.” 

“The US has a long history of anti-Asian racism and violence. What is happening around the country are not isolated events and they will not go away after the pandemic ends,” she said. 

A recent wave of attacks on Asian Americans has alarmed advocates and lawmakers. Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group tracking hate incidents, said it has received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020, compared with roughly 100 incidents annually in previous years. 

Local police said Wednesday it was too soon to tell whether the killings at the massage parlors were racially motivated, saying they could have been linked to sex addiction. 

But Yale University Sociology Department chair Grace Kao, an expert on Asian American studies, told USA TODAY it was hard to disentangle race from the killings, given the shooter’s choice of targets and the legacy of stereotyping against Asian American women. 

“If you talk to the average Asian American woman, most of us have been subject to varying degrees of sexual harassment that targets our gender and racial identities,” Kao said. “They do not exist separately in the lives of individuals.”

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