An 'ugly poison': Biden signs bill to combat hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called Thursday for an end to the "ugly poison" of hate as he signed a new federal law aimed at combating violence against Asian Americans.

In a ceremony in the White House East Room, Biden signed the first new federal hate crimes law in a dozen years and denounced what he described as the "gut-wrenching" attacks against Asian Americans that have surged since the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

"I believe with every fiber of my being that there are simple core values and beliefs that should bring us together as Americans," Biden said. "One of them is standing against hate."

Hate in the U.S. hides in plain sight and too often is met with silence, Biden said.

"Every time we're silent, every time we let hate flourish, you make a lie of who we are as a nation," he said, his voice rising.

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President Joe Biden hands a pen to Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, after signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in the East Room of the White House.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, expedites the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes and designates an official at the department to oversee the effort. It also provides grants to states to improve hate crime reporting.

Violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities has been on the rise for more than a year with the spread of COVID-19 and as some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, blamed China for the pandemic.

More than 6,600 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported in the year since the pandemic arrived in the U.S., according to Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit group that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Reported cases jumped more than 164% in the first quarter of this year in 16 major cities and jurisdictions, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

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The new law – which the House passed on a 364-62 vote and the Senate 94-1 – came amid calls for action after a mass shooting in March that killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent.

Until now, the most recent hate crimes legislation was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which targeted crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity and more. President  Barack Obama signed the law in 2009 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

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