Was Sen. Hawley wrong to vote no on Asian hate crime bill?


Fact Box

  • On Thursday, April 22, 2021, the Senate passed an anti-Asian hate crime bill introduced by Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono relating to the “surge in attacks” during the pandemic. Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley was the only one to vote against it. 
  • Since the start of COVID-19, many have blamed the origin of the virus on China. There have been reports of “disturbing incidents” against Asian Americans: seniors being shoved into the ground, slapped and set on fire, and slashed in the face. 
  • STOP AAPI Hate reported a record high number of anti-Asian hate crimes within the past year since the pandemic started. From March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021, 3,795 incidents were reported versus the previous year's 2,808 incidents. 
  • 2018 US DOJ data (Table 14) records 182,230 violent acts committed against Asian people that year; 563,940 against Blacks, 734,410 against Hispanics, and 3,581,360 against Whites. 62.1% of attacks against Whites were committed by Whites, 70.3% were Blacks against Blacks, 45.4% were Hispanics against Hispanics, but 27.5% of attacks against Asian people were committed Blacks, compared to 24.1% by other Asians and Whites, and 7% by Hispanics.

Stephanie (No)

Although his decision was generally unpopular, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley had his reasons for voting 'no' on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Following criticism, he explained that the proposed bill was 'too broad,' thus raising first amendment concerns. He continued that if passed, the law would turn 'the federal government into the speech police' while giving it 'open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents.' Like it or not, hate speech is legally protected speech in the US.

The premise behind the bill originates in the controversy toward perceived negative feelings towards Asians due to COVID-19's origins. However, the fact remains that the virus did indeed come from China. Once the pandemic is behind us, this should be a non-issue. And while 'Asian hate' may be considered an arbitrary cultural issue compared to that of Black Lives Matter issues, the fact that many Asian individuals were reportedly attacked for their race is authentic. However, passing a law against this will unlikely deter future crimes and instead foster increased divisiveness in singling out Asian populations as vulnerable.

Also worth noting is that civil liberty protections and anti-discrimination laws for all races already exist, which should instead be used in prosecuting those involved in hate crimes. Also, before the pandemic, 'anti-Asian bias' accounted for only 4.4% of hate crimes in 2019, compared to 48.5% of those pertaining to African American victims. While COVID-19 has been trying for almost everyone and, unfortunately, has resulted in hatred towards Asians in some cases, that is not reason enough to pass new legislation that gives the government increased authority over daily lives.

Joanna (Yes)

Senator Hawley dishonorably used his voice to invalidate the violent racism that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have endured this past year. Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center for AAPIs, has received almost 3,800 reports since March 2020, in part due to an increase in hate crimes towards AAPIs following widely-used derogatory language regarding the origin of COVID-19.

The anti-Asian hate bill, passed by the Senate in a 94-1 vote, seeks to halt these crimes by providing necessary resources to state and local governments and law enforcement. By voting against the anti-hate-crime bill, which focuses on no other topics, Hawley displays either blatant denial of or apathy toward race issues facing this country.

Prior to its passing, Hawley expressed concerns that the bill is 'hugely broad.' However, the bill states clear solutions, big and small, for tackling hate crimes targeting AAPIs. The bill's specific solutions include expediting review of anti-Asian hate crimes, providing an online reporting platform, providing grants for hotlines, among other methods to handle and prevent these crimes.

Hawley believes 'it's dangerous to give the federal government open-ended authority to define [...] hate crime incidents', but AAPIs are facing real danger since hate crimes targeting Asians rose almost 150% in 2020. By defining what is intolerable, the government can adequately prosecute perpetrators and protect those being targeted.

'It is very important we now have a president who speaks out and takes a stand,' Sen. Hirono said about the bill that she originally proposed, 'it is now time for Congress to take a stand.' By casting the lone 'nay' vote, Hawley forfeited his opportunity to take a stand in solidarity with his fellow senators to stop Asian hate.

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