President Biden speaks before signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Thursday as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on.

President Biden speaks before signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Thursday as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. Evan Vucci / AP

Biden Signs Law Directing Justice Department to Combat COVID-19 Hate Crimes

It requires the department to designate an employee to facilitate an expedited review of such crimes.

President Biden signed a bill on Thursday directing the Justice Department to take a range of actions to combat coronavirus-related hate crimes. 

Sen. Mazie. Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in March in response to the rise of violence and hate crimes targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University reported that while overall hate crimes dropped 7% in 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 149%.

“The Biden administration continues to condemn in the strongest possible terms the increasing acts of anti-Asian bias, harassment and violence,” said the Office of Management and Budget, in a statement endorsing the bill. “The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act would build upon President Biden’s January 26, 2021 Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, and would establish additional coordination at the federal level in response to hate crimes. This bill will stand up for America’s values by standing strongly against anti-Asian xenophobia and hate.” 

The bill directs the attorney general to designate an employee to facilitate an expedited review of coronavirus-related hate crimes reported to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies no more than seven days after enactment. 

The attorney general must also issue guidance to state and local law enforcement agencies on establishing an online reporting process for hate crimes, collecting data on protected characteristics (as outlined in U.S. law) and expanding public education campaigns on raising awareness about hate crimes. 

Another provision is the attorney general and Health and Human Services secretary, along with the COVID–19 Health Equity Task Force and community-based organizations, must issue guidance about raising awareness on the increase of hate crimes during the pandemic.

The legislation also establishes grants for states to develop state-run hotlines for reporting hate crimes, and authorizes grants for states and localities to implement the National Incident-Based Reporting System and “conduct law enforcement activities or crime reduction programs to prevent, address or respond to hate crimes.” The bill allows courts to order the individuals convicted of hate crimes and put on supervised release to do educational classes or community service as the condition for release.

“We have seen a substantial rise in hate crimes and bias-related incidents against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community since the beginning of the pandemic," said Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a statement after the signing. “The Department of Justice is proud to play a central role in implementing this legislation. Investigating and prosecuting hate crimes is a top priority, deeply rooted in the department’s founding. We will use the new law to enhance the aggressive measures we are taking to combat crime motivated by bigotry and discrimination.”

In her remarks on Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris said examples of violence ranged from a 61-year old man getting kicked in the head to eight people in Atlanta getting shot at a spa. She noted, “this violence, it did not come from nowhere” and it is not new. 

Biden said he and Harris had a “raw and emotional visit” to Atlanta after the shooting this spring. “The conversation we had in Atlanta is one we’re having across the country: that all of this hate hides in plain sight,” which has been building for centuries.

The bill passed 94-1 in the Senate on April 22 and 364-62 in the House on Tuesday. While all of the nays were from Republicans, this bill did receive much bipartisan support. 

“We simply haven’t seen this type of bipartisanship for much too long in Washington,” Biden said. This is “showing that our democracy can work and deliver for the American people.” 

Update: This article has been updated with comments from Attorney General Merrick Garland.