The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic brought with it a rise in hateful incidents, including hate crimes, directed at people of Asian descent, says Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center).
She told the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday that she has personally felt that hatred by being the target of verbal abuse in public and in threatening email messages.
As a result, she often feels unsafe in public, such as when she is grocery shopping.
Vang knows she is not alone in having to live with this fear, and knows these hate crimes and incidents are underreported to law enforcement, which undercuts the ability to hold perpetrators accountable.
“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, when the Asian American community was targeted for the coronavirus, there was no effective infrastructure in place within the state to report what was actually happening to our community,” she said.
Vang sponsors HF181 that, as amended, would establish grants for community groups to collect data on incidents motivated by hate and report the data to the Department of Human Rights. She said victims of bias crimes and incidents are much more likely to report to community groups they identify with rather than to law enforcement agencies.
The definition of bias crimes would also be expanded to include those committed against a person due to the person’s gender, gender identity, or gender expression, as well as bias against a person who associates with someone in a protected group.
Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), the committee chair, said the bill would be back before the committee when certain appropriations are finalized. They include funding for the Department of Human Rights to develop training courses for police officers on collecting bias reports; and for the Department of Public Safety to fund victim support programs and establish grants to community organizations to collect data on bias incidents.
Beth Gendler, executive director of Jewish Community Action, said community organizations and law enforcement must be empowered to work together to ensure accuracy in reporting hate crimes and incidents. “If you can’t name it, you can’t fight it,” she said.
Hnuchee Vang, director of policy and advocacy at the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, stressed the ultimate goal of better reporting is to better serve the communities experiencing hatred.
“These incidents have lasting impacts on victims, and they need services to support them,” she said.