Washington, May 20 (EFE).- With the support of both Democrats and Republicans, President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a bill designed to expedite the review of pandemic-related hate crimes and provide grants to local law enforcement to help improve the reporting of such incidents.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed through Congress in a rare act of bipartisanship, given the current fraught and polarized political climate. It was drafted to respond to the significant rise in violence against Asian-Americans during the coronavirus pandemic,
At the White House signing ceremony, Biden thanked the two political parties for uniting to approve a bill against hate crimes targeting people of Asian origin or heritage.
“For centuries, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, diverse and vibrant communities have helped build this nation only to be often stepped over, forgotten or ignored,” Biden said at the ceremony. “My message to all of those who are hurting is, we see you. And the Congress has said, we see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias.”
The president went on to say that the history of mistreatment of the AAPI community in the US is “un-American,” adding that “Silence is complicity. And we cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act. That’s what you’ve done. And I can’t thank you enough. I’m proud today.”
Biden’s 20-minute speech was loaded with references to the mission he took on when he launched his 2020 presidential campaign: rescuing the US values of decency and equality to unite the country once and for all against hatred.
The ceremony included both Democratic and Republican lawmakers laughing at Biden’s jokes, a rather unusual instance of collegiality and cordiality in Washington these days.
It was also the first time that a large event had been held inside the White House in quite some time with almost 70 people in attendance and not wearing masks.
Specifically, the House of Representatives earlier this week approved the bill in a 364-62 vote, with all the nay votes being cast by Republicans, after the Senate last month had approved it in an almost unanimous 94-1 vote.
Vice President Kamala Harris – the first female, first African-American and first Asian-American person to hold that office – also spoke at the ceremony, alluding to the increase in attacks against Asian-Americans and listing several incidents of violence, including the mass shooting in March that took the lives of eight people, six of them Asian women, in Atlanta.
She said that the violence did not arise out of nowhere and is not new. “In my life, my lived experience, I have seen how hate can pervade our communities. I have seen how hate can impede our progress and I have seen how people uniting against hate can strengthen our country,” she said.
“This bill brings us one step closer to stopping hate, not only for Asian Americans, but for all Americans,” Harris added.
The aim of the bill signed into law by Biden is to make denouncing hate crimes easier via information campaigns. In addition, the documents needed to file a hate crimes complaint will be available on the Internet in several languages.
Also, a new post within the Department of Justice will be created to investigate hate crimes related to the pandemic.
A study by California State University at San Bernardino found that during the first quarter of this year there was a 164 percent increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans compared to the same period a year earlier, just before the pandemic hit.
Although nobody mentioned former President Donald Trump during the ceremony, some non-governmental organizations attributed the recent stigmatization of people of Asian origin to his comments while in office about Covid-19, which he repeatedly called “the China virus.”