The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is Not Enough

A couple of months after the 2-decade anniversary of 9/11, it is important to not only remember the immediate impacts that come to mind – the loss of lives, the War on Terror, and so on – but also some of the lasting social effects. A mass amount of targeted anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes flooded the United States, which are still present today.

Given the history behind hate crimes towards marginalized groups, ignoring them may set dangerous precedent for the future. The mishandling of anti-Muslim hate has contributed to the rise in hate crimes due to the pandemic, and a spillover effect will continue to occur, making the fight against hate crimes much more vital. By setting the groundwork to address hate crimes, like the unprecedented rise in hate crimes against Muslims after 9/11 or Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States can more easily address rises in hate crimes after the next major crisis.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans have witnessed a historically unprecedented increase. Data make clear that these hate crimes are not born out of coincidence but are instead directly linked to rising Anti-Asian sentiment tied to ideas surrounding around the origin of the virus. In fact, there is even sentiment that the virus spread due to the presence Asian Americans in the United States.

Throughout 2020 and early 2021, hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans continued to rise to levels not seen in previous years. Whether in the form of verbal abuse or physical violence, hate crimes were seen across the United States. In just first quarter of 2021 alone, alarming increases in the nation’s largest cities show that, even as the situation with the pandemic improves, hate crime rates have not. This raises the question of whether these hate crimes will persist past the pandemic, and if so, what can be done to mitigate them.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rising Anti-Asian sentiment, hates crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021.

A CSULB study shows that in 2019-2020, hate crimes in general decreased by 7% (from 1845 to 1717). However, when looking at Anti-Asian hate crimes specifically, there was an almost 150% increase (from 49 to 122) in America’s largest cities.

During this same period, the Google Trends Database shows that searches for terms like “Kung-Flu” or the “China Virus” massively spiked from the beginning of the pandemic to early 2021. In addition, Sino-phobic slurs used on social media reached all-time highs.

In terms of hate crimes by ethnicity, Chinese were mostly targeted (41%), followed by Koreans (15%), Vietnamese (8%), and Filipinos (7%). Out of the 24 Anti-Asian hate crimes in Los Angeles, 13 of them either referenced Covid-19 or used Anti-Chinese rhetoric.

However, data from a CSUSB 2021 Database shows that the problem wasn’t getting better. In just the first quarter, there was an almost 170% increase in hate crimes in America’s largest cities (from 32 to 86). This includes New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, but also places like Harris County, TX that did not have a single case last year.

Out of the 18,000 agencies that report hate crimes, more than 3,000 did not submit any data in 2019. For the agencies that did, only 1 in 7 reported that there were any instances of hate crimes.

As reported by the Washington Monthly, only 12 states in the US have laws that require police academies to include training on hate crimes.

Following the rise of these hate crimes, the House and Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in early 2021, which was signed by President Biden shortly after. The bill creates a position within the Department of Justice to review and expedite processing of reports of hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans, along with dedicating resources to local and state agencies.

Although it is too early to see the effect of such legislation, early data indicate that the problem persists. For example, NextShark, a leading source of Asian American news, shows a sudden, 400% increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in New York City (which was one of the targeted states of the bill) and demonstrates that the bill may not be enough. However, it is possible that, when compared to the increase in data collection post-bill, the lack of data in 2019 may make the sudden increases in numbers appear artificially high.

This raises a few critical questions for the future:

  1. How has the Asian Hate Crime bill been deployed on a local and national level?
  2. How effective are the measures put in place at reporting and preventing Asian Hate Crimes?
  3. What are the shortcomings of the Asian Hate Crime bill and how can they be addressed?

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is an important first step to recognizing the bigotry surrounding the pandemic. Perhaps most importantly, it recognizes the pandemic as being separate from Asian Americans themselves. By refuting the common idea that somehow Asian Americans are behind the dramatic spread of COVID-19, it addresses one of the root causes of the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Since its founding, Asian Americans have made incredible contributions to the United States, extending from their instrumental labor on railroads in the 1800s to their contributions to modern business, such as Eric Yuan who founded the Zoom program so many people still depend on. It is important to recognize the role that Asian Americans play in making the United States the country it is. These hate crimes not only cause physical harm but instill a sense of fear among all Asian Americans that they are outsiders, others, or that they don’t belong.

Since hate crimes are consistently underreported, the U.S. government must not only address reported hate crimes but ensure that more resources are available for people to report hate crimes in the first place. A major issue associated with reporting hate crimes is that there is a sense of mistrust between victims and law enforcement. Future legislation should focus on bridging this gap through communication and information.

The Asian Hate Crime Bill is imperfect and is not an endpoint to what the U.S. government must do. The early data coming out of New York City shows precisely why more still needs to be done— specifically, more needs to be done to address the root cause of anti-Asian violence.

While the new COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to address the root causes of Asian Hate.