California bill could create statewide hotline for reporting hate crimes

California

California legislators recently introduced a bill that would create a toll-free hotline and online reporting system for reporting hate crimes and hate incident.

AB 557, introduced on Feb. 22 by Assembly members Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would require the California Department of Justice to create a statewide system for reporting hate crimes. 

The bill was introduced in light of an increase in violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the course of this pandemic, we have seen a horrific uptick in hate crimes targeting our API communities,” Chiu said in a joint statement with Muratsuchi in February. “We cannot stand idly by and allow this to continue. Having a centralized, statewide approach to tracking hate crimes within a law enforcement agency will make all of our communities in California safer.”

According to the statement from the two legislators, similar hotlines have also been established in other parts of California such as San Francisco and Alameda County.

The Torrance assemblyman added that “hate crimes are crimes against an entire community, not just an individual victim.”

Crimes targeting Asian Americans have risen dramatically since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A recent report released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino studied hate crimes in America’s 16 largest cities. The study found that while such crimes in 2020 decreased overall by 7 percent, those targeting Asian Americans rose by nearly 150 percent.

On Tuesday night, a white gunman opened fire at three spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people. Six were women of Asian descent.

Authorities on Wednesday charged 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Ga. with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Police said Long confessed to the killings and told them he had a sexual addiction and had attacked the massage parlors to eliminate his temptation. 

The killings in Georgia are the latest in a growing list of assaults against Asian Americans — many on the elderly — that elected leaders and activists have cited in a broad push to address anti-Asian harassment and violence.

On the day of the shootings, Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., reported nearly 3,800 instances of discrimination against Asians in the past year alone. Though lawmakers believe the actual number could be much higher.  

“The U.S. Department of Justice estimates over half of all hate crimes are never reported,” Muratsuchi said in a statement regarding AB 557. “A toll-free hate crimes hotline, along with an online reporting system, will allow victims and witnesses to report a hate incident against any group in a safe, anonymous manner, particularly those who may face language or cultural barriers or are undocumented.”

Muratsuchi further stated that “California DOJ should be the central clearinghouse of such reports to coordinate with local law enforcement and to provide support for victims.”

The Stop AAPI Hate site was launched nearly a year ago by a coalition of advocacy groups in response to attacks related to the perception that Asians were responsible for the coronavirus because of its origins in Wuhan, China. The group, which tracks hate incidents and helps Asian Americans report them in a dozen languages, did not collect data in previous years to show whether attacks against Asians have increased during the pandemic.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will allocate $1.4 million to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center and researchers at the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles to address the impact of COVID-19 on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, including new research and analysis into hate incidents.

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