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Nevada Today

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Hate Crimes Don’t Come Out of Nowhere (And They Don’t Have to Be “Our New Normal”)

For the last year, we’ve seen the proliferation of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. However, this larger trend of bigotry against Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities didn’t just “come out of nowhere” in 2020. It didn’t even begin with former President Donald Trump, though Trump certainly played a role in encouraging such violent rhetoric and actions.

So what led to last week’s horrific shootings in Georgia? And why would we ever want to accept this violence as just “our new normal”?

Here are more horrifying examples of why actions (including incendiary rhetoric) have consequences.

There are reasons why we’ve been trying our best to properly explain COVID-19 and direct you to the actual science and real facts of this pandemic. When we diverge from the truth and get lost in a sea of lies and propaganda, it’s easy for confusion to become outrage, then for that outrage to fuel violence. We got another terrible reminder of this dynamic last Tuesday, when former President Donald Trump took to Fox News to repeat the anti-Chinese slur he often used on the campaign trail last year and (once again) deflect blame from his own mishandling of the pandemic

Just before Trump got on Fox News, a gunman opened fire and killed eight people at three massage parlors about 30 miles apart in the Atlanta region. The FBI is now assisting Georgia law enforcement authorities in investigating these crimes, but the fact that six of the victims are Asian-American is at the very least highlighting the growing trend of hate crimes targeting Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspect himself told police these crimes were “not racially motivated”, but why did these law enforcement authorities so quickly 

In the immediate hours following the shooting, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office was quick to corroborate the suspect’s claim that these crimes were “not racially motivated”, but activists soon found that the spokesperson who had corroborated the suspect’s claim had himself spread false and racist claims about COVID-19 on social media.

Just as we noticed in past instances, the suspected perpetrator quickly got the benefit of the doubt through the “really bad day” excuse, while the AAPI women who were killed in this massacre were slut-shamed and “othered” into villain status. And once again, far too many national media pundits fell for their shtick. Why do gun-toting cisgender straight white men get such an immediate benefit of doubt, and why are the victims being blamed for the crime?

“We all have a role to play in our communities. It starts with the conversations like the one we’re having now.” 
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D), at a virtual roundtable discussion with Nevada AAPI community leaders on March 19
Catherine Cortez Masto, civil rights, racism, hate crimes, bigotry, Georgia Shootings
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

Last Friday, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto held a virtual roundtable discussion with Nevada AAPI community leaders to discuss what can be done to curb this wave of COVID-era anti-AAPI hate crimes. One of the community leaders, Minddie Lloyd, walked everyone through how the community successfully worked with Clark County government leaders to craft new policies to prevent Southern Nevada massage parlors from becoming open targets for violence. Then, Lloyd asked, “We were able to change those ordinances for our massage parlors, so that we have a safe harbor for our workers. But what about our doctors and nurses?”

Cortez Masto agreed: “This is about way more than just massage parlors.” Indeed, these hate crimes reach far beyond massage parlors. So what’s being done about this?

Culinary Union, Joe Biden, Catherine Cortez Masto, American Rescue Plan, stimulus
Screenshot by Andrew Davey

During the virtual roundtable discussion, Cortez Masto voiced support for a statewide hotline to report hate crimes and request support. She also agreed with participants that this is a far greater societal problem that necessitates community-wide solutions: “We all have a role to play in our communities. It starts with the conversations like the one we’re having now.”

So what, if anything, will government do about this? Later on, we’ll check on pending legislation. But first, we need to revisit our own problematic history to understand what led to last week’s tragic murders.

Remember: This did not “come out of nowhere”. In fact, this was over a century in the making.

Just over 145 years before this gunman targeted salons in Georgia and this suspect claimed “sex addiction” and “temptation to eliminate” as justification of these murders, Congress passed the Page Act in 1875 to restrict the immigration of Chinese women over fears of “prostitution”. Over a century before Donald Trump began to use racial slurs to deflect blame over his mishandling of COVID-19, AAPI communities constantly had to battle back accusations that they “carried disease” wherever they went. Some 134 years before Trump falsely promised to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it”, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 to further restrict any and all Chinese immigrants from any possibility of legal status. And many decades before far-right political operatives like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone provided “anti-establishment” cover for racist propaganda, politicians were already advocating segregation regimes targeting AAPI communities

Even when it comes to major history-making events like Chinese-American railroad workers organizing what was then the nation’s largest strike in 1867 to demand equal pay and better working conditions, or the federal government forcing Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II while sending U.S. troops overseas to fight against the atrocities of Nazis and other fascists, all too often this history gets left out of history books. All too often, the AAPI experience gets reduced to deceptive and dehumanizing tropes of “model minorities”, “sexy Asian women”, “overachieving job thieves”, “dirty disease spreaders”, and “conniving, deceitful enemies”.

In reality, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recession have intensified pre-existing institutional racism to the point where AAPI unemployment now hovers well above the national average. Just as women from other racial and ethnic backgrounds have had to fight back against deep institutionalized misogyny, AAPI women have been pushing to get the rest of us to recognize them as real people instead of mere “docile partners” or “conniving seductresses”. And even now, with this most recent attempt to blame the victims for the crimes, it’s just another horrifying reminder that decades’ worth of victim-shaming has real and violent consequences.

So what will we do to stop these hate crimes before they harm even more people?
Nevada Legislature, tax, budget
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the past year we’ve seen an alarming spike in anti-AAPI hate crimes across America, and this spike hasn’t exactly avoided us here in Nevada. The State of Nevada already has hate crimes laws in place that can result in harsher sentences for felony and gross misdemeanor offenses that targeted victims based on their race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity and expression. And this legislative session, State Senator Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) has introduced SB 148 to strengthen the state’s protocols for collecting data on hate crimes and reporting such hate crimes data to the FBI. Last week, the State Senate Judiciary Committee brought SB 148 to work session and passed it with a few amendments.

The U.S. federal penal code also has hate crime statutes on the books, but the narrow legal definition of hate crime, and some law enforcement agencies’ persistent reluctance to actually label a hate crime as such, have resulted in the sparing use of existing statutes to prosecute hate crimes at the federal level. Last year, Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York) introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to direct the Justice Department to expedite the review of data on hate crimes targeting historically oppressed communities who have faced heightened threats since the onset of the pandemic. This year Meng’s newly improved COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act also requires federal authorities to provide guidance to state and local law enforcement on establishing more accessible hate crimes reporting systems, and it directs the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to provide better guidance to prevent further justification of hate crimes on COVID-19 claims.

impeachment, Congress, COVID-19, coup, stimulus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last week the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act got major boosts when U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) made this bill into bicameral legislation, and when President Joe Biden officially endorsed this legislation and promised to continue executive actions in pursuit of these goals while this bill works its way through Congress. But with far-right “influencers” like Steven Crowder and Sean Hannity continuing to communicate racist messaging targeting AAPI communities, Congressional Republicans like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) are already signaling that Democrats will have a hard time making this legislation bipartisan. 

(Editor’s Note: This really should not come as a surprise considering the gradual devolution of the Republican Party into an increasingly welcoming hub for the white nationalist “identitarian movement”, and this serves as another painful reminder of the real-world consequences of the U.S. Senate’s current filibuster rules. And in another note and relevant [11:50 AM] update, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has signed on as an official cosponsor for Meng’s and Hirono’s COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.)

Before we go, we need to talk about another relevant policy matter here: gun violence.

Of course, there’s another policy realm that’s relevant to this discussion. Earlier this month, the House passed two bills to strengthen federal law requiring background checks on pending gun purchases: H.R.1446 to mandate a universal 10-day “waiting period” to allow for more time to complete a background check on an unlicensed buyer, and H.R.8 to close loopholes in federal law that currently allow buyers and sellers in certain states to evade background checks by conducting gun transactions at venues like gun shows and online marketplaces like Armslist. In addition, the House passed H.R.1620 to reauthorize and update the Violence Against Women Act that officially expired in 2018. (Reps. Dina Titus [D-Las Vegas], Steven Horsford [D-North Las Vegas], and Susie Lee [D-Las Vegas] voted to pass all three bills, while Rep. Mark Amodei [R-Carson City] voted against all three bills.)

But as generally expected, these gun safety bills are already facing long odds in the U.S. Senate due to overwhelming Republican opposition and the current filibuster rules (see above) making it easy to block any potential floor vote for either bill. Even with the Violence Against Women Act that used to pass easily with limited opposition, Senate Republicans are claiming this bill’s aim to close loopholes that allow some domestic violence offenders to access guns as a convenient excuse to oppose this “overreaching” legislation.

Yesterday another gunman opened fire and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, and the gunman apparently used an “AR-15 style [assault] rifle”. Just a week prior, the NRA boasted of going to court to block Boulder’s municipal assault weapons ban. Even as so much of our bandwidth has understandably been consumed by COVID-19 and the recession, we shouldn’t ignore last year’s spike in gun violence across the country. We shouldn’t ignore gun violence just because it feels like “just another crisis plaguing our society”, and we shouldn’t have to accept this loss of lives as “normal” under any circumstance.

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