Spa shootings add urgency to congressional hearing on violence against Asian Americans

WASHINGTON — Hollywood actor Daniel Dae Kim said his testimony at Thursday’s congressional hearing on anti-Asian violence was the second time in six months that he spoke to lawmakers on the topic.

“Now, here I am again because, as every witness at this hearing has pointed out, this situation has gotten worse, way worse,” he said.

Kim rattled off details about a few of the murders and assaults against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year. Among them was the shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday night that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, and another person injured.

The organization Stop AAPI Hate has logged nearly 3,800 incidents of intimidation or assault against Asian Americans since March 2020, which coincides with the coronavirus pandemic. The Pew Research Center reported that 31% of Asian Americans surveyed said they had been the subject of slurs or jokes during the outbreak.

Kim said this harassment and violence, fueled by stereotypes and bigotry, can be addressed through better education about Asian American history, funneling resources to improve communities of color and passing legislation such as the NO HATE Act, which would improve data collection on hate crimes and provide grants for agencies that investigate and prosecute such crimes.

A second bill, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, would provide support to state and local law enforcement agencies in responding to hate crimes and resources for non-English speakers who feel targeted. Kim urged the House to quickly pass these bills and send them on to the Senate for consideration.

“What happens right now and over the course of the coming months will send a message for generations to come as to whether we matter,” he said. “Whether the country we call home chooses to erase us or include us, dismiss or respect us, invisible-ise us or see us.”

The two-hour hearing held by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee was schedule prior to Tuesday’s violence at the metro Atlanta spas. But the spree shooting was mentioned by nearly every member of Congress and panelist who spoke.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat who serves on the committee, said he felt sorrow about the shooting spree and the families that were impacted.

“Whether the massacre in Atlanta was sex-based or race-based, it was hate-based and directed at Asian women; no question about it,” he said. “If genocide against Native Americans and slavery are our nation’s original sin, then harassment and violence against Asian Americans is its progeny.”

Some Democrats and advocates have blamed former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the coronavirus, which he referred to as the “China virus,” for contributing to the rise in violence against Asian Americans.

While most of the speakers focused on the rising instances of violence against Asian Americans, one Republican lawmaker said he worried those concerns would be used as justification to limit criticism of China and other Asian countries.

“Who decides what is hate?” U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas said. “Who decides what is the kind of speech that deserves policing?”

Roy’s comments did not sit well with Democrats on the committee or scheduled to testify, including those of Asian descent. Several people who spoke condemned his comments, including U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York, who directed her remarks at Roy, Trump and other conservative lawmakers.

“Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other countries that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bull’s-eye on the backs of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids,” Meng said, swallowing her tears.

“This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community, and to find solutions,” she said. “And we will not let you take our voice away from us.”