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Time for Congress to take action on hate crimes bill

A bipartisan group of elected officials in Congress introduced legislation on April 8 designed to help fight back against hate crimes across the country. It’s not hard to understand why. Hate crimes are up – in Washington state and around the country. Just last month, the King County Prosecutors Office filed its tenth hate crime case this  year targeting  local Asian Americans. In February, a synagogue in Spokane was spray painted with swastikas, and last week, a neo-Nazi pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle to threatening local Jewish activists and journalists.  This problem is real, it’s current, and it has gotten worse since the start of the pandemic.

People of Asian descent have become targets of  bigotry since rhetoric around the coronavirus turned racial last spring. Anti-Asian American hate crimes in Seattle rose 33 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino., Other U.S. cities saw far worse spikes in hate crime incidents. Misguided accusations about the origins of COVID-19 certainly drove some of this increase, although at times it was clear that perpetrators were just using the pandemic to express long-held feelings of hate.

The Jewish community is no stranger to current events being used as an excuse to dust off old bigotry. Antisemitism is called “the oldest hatred” for good reason. Whatever the problem – war, disease, famine, economic depression – someone always finds a way to “blame the Jews.” According to the FBI’s most recent hate crime statistics, out of all religious-based attacks, those targeting Jews comprise about 60 percent, even as Jews constitute only 2 percent of the U.S. population. The Jewish community in Puget Sound has been a regular target of antisemitic attacks, including, tragically, the shooting of six employees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006. The coronavirus pandemic has also driven an “explosion” in antisemitism worldwide, most recently expressing itself in anti-vaccine hate targeted at Israel.

The Asian American and Jewish communities of the Puget Sound area have proudly stood together over the course of the past year, speaking out against hate and division, sharing perspectives and comfort, and advocating for safer communities for all. But we can’t successfully fight back against a problem which we don’t fully understand. The Jabara-Heyer NO Hate Act, named after a Lebanese American man killed in Oklahoma and Heather Heyer, a white woman killed at the white supremacist’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, would streamline the national hate crime reporting systems used by law enforcement, create a hate crimes hotline and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes, and support training for law enforcement on investigating hate crimes. It would help the FBI better understand where, why, and how these incidents occur, and how to better take action, both proactively and reactively, on this critical issue.

The NO Hate Act has been broadly endorsed by civil rights and activist groups and minority community advocates, including our two organizations –  American Jewish Committee and United Chinese Americans – and law enforcement agencies and organizations, including a bipartisan coalition of 35 attorneys general, including Washington’s Bob Ferguson.

As the attorneys general said,

“For more than two decades, thousands of city, county, college and university, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies have voluntarily submitted hate crimes data to the FBI. However… most law enforcement agencies did not participate or reported zero incidents. … Without reliable statistics, the government cannot properly understand, investigate, and prosecute hate crimes or provide necessary resources to survivors.”

The NO Hate Act died in Congress last year. It cannot be allowed to fail again. We strongly urge our congressional delegation not just to co-sponsor the bill, but to make it a priority, so that we can take one more step toward a world in which hatred, bigotry, racism, and violence are no longer welcome.

Murray Lee is the incoming board president of the American Jewish Committee – Seattle. Winston Lee is the president of United Chinese Americans of Washington

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