Biden signs bill to counter spike in anti-Asian hate crime

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President Joe Biden smiles after signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. Top row from left, Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation to curtail a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and expressed pride that lawmakers who seem to agree on little else came together against hate and racism.

Biden lavished praise on Democrats and Republicans for approving the bill by lopsided margins and sending it to the White House for his signature.

The House approved the bill 364-62 this week, following the Senate’s 94-1 vote in April.

Biden, who stressed his wish to help unite the country as he campaigned for office, said during the East Room event that fighting hate and racism should bring people together.

“I'm proud today of the United States,” he said.

The new law will expedite Justice Department reviews of hate crimes by putting an official in charge of the effort. Federal grants will be available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification and reporting of bias-driven incidents, which often go underreported.

Some activists opposed the legislation's reliance on law enforcement.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is Black and Indian, discussed reports of stabbings, shootings and other attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals and their businesses since the start of the pandemic a little over a year ago.

Harris said such incidents had increased six-fold during that time.

She said that while the new law brings the U.S. closer to stopping hate, “the work to address injustice, wherever it exists, remains the work ahead.”

The AAPI Victory Alliance, a policy and advocacy organization for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, complimented Biden for quickly signing the bill. But executive director Varun Nikore said the law is “only one piece in the long fight” for equity and opportunity for communities of color.

Nikore said Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will use the “electoral prowess” they demonstrated last year to elect leaders who will advocate for their community.

“Ending Asian hate should never be a partisan issue,” he said.

At the end of the program, Harris and lawmakers who led the effort to get the bill passed surrounded Biden as he sat at a desk and signed it into law.

“The Asians who live here are Asian Americans. They should not be discriminated because we didn’t start the COVID,” Jacksonville resident Michelle Ensor said.

At the ARTSee and Shop in Jacksonville, an event called Cultural Mosaic was held Thursday to recognize Asian artists and their work. But while people were admiring the art, some were also praising Biden for signing the legislation.

“I’m glad it’s been recognized and it’s been approved because something needs to happen,” said artist Agnes Lopes. “I’m born and raised here in Jacksonville, and I have to think twice when I go outside.”

Jacksonville resident Patricia Padilla added: “I honestly think it’s necessary to make a bill like this because of the climate of today’s society.”

According to an organization called Stop AAPI Hate, there were more than 6,600 reported cases of hate incidents between March 2020 and March 2021.

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