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Asian American lawmakers push for federal hate crime legislation

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks on Capitol Hill

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 6. Credit: Pool / The Hill / Greg Nash via AP

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and several prominent Asian American lawmakers on Sunday called for the passage of federal anti-Asian hate crime legislation following last week’s fatal shootings at a string of Atlanta-area spas, that left eight dead, including six Asian American women.

Duckworth, one of two Asian Americans serving in the Senate, is one of the co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, proposed legislation endorsed by President Joe Biden on Friday that aims to address the spike in attacks on Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would increase the Justice Department’s oversight of coronavirus-related hate crimes, and attempt to gather more complete data on hate crimes committed against Asian Americans.

"Many of these crimes go underreported as hate crimes and are just classified as a mugging, or harassment or vandalism when really they were targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular," Duckworth said Sunday on CBS’ "Face the Nation."

Duckworth called for a "deeper investigation" into whether the Atlanta shooting spree and other attacks on Asian Americans are not being properly recorded as hate crimes.

Authorities in Atlanta and neighboring Cherokee County have said it’s too early to indicate if shooter Robert Aaron Long’s fatal shooting spree last Tuesday was racially motivated. Long, 21, told authorities the shooting was fueled by a sex addiction, but Asian American lawmakers and activists have argued that the majority of his victims were Asian women at Asian American-owned spas.

"From where I sit, I want to see a deeper investigation into whether or not these shootings and other similar crimes are racially motivated. It looks racially motivated to me," Duckworth said, adding that she has written to FBI Director Christopher Wray and to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for an exhaustive probe "into crimes that involve Asian Americans to see how many crimes have actually been underreported as hate crimes."

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told ABC’s "This Week" there should be no question last Tuesday’s attack was racially motivated.

‘I know the legal bar is high because they have to find somebody who heard him say that there was an anti-Asian slur expressed at the time. But I would say, look, these were places where people spoke another language. They may not have heard him. They may be dead. But in my mind and in the minds of many, this is an anti-Asian hate crime," Chu said.

Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both of California, the first Korean American Republicans to serve in Congress, told CNN’s "State of the Union" it was imperative to speak out against the rise in hate crimes against Asians.

"Asian Americans are Americans," Kim said.

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