The Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, who have witnessed an increase in racially motivated attacks in the last year, have an opportunity to change their pain into action and power, said Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, the first American vice president of Asian descent, made the remarks while speaking at the AAPI Victory Alliance’s first unity summit on May 19.
“As a member of this community, I share in that outrage and grief. I believe we have an opportunity now, to turn that pain into action. To turn that pain, that righteous anger, because of the injustice of it, we have an opportunity to turn that into power,” she said at the summit. The summit was held virtually.
Harris, who served as the attorney general of California between 2011 and 2017, said that the increase in the number of the anti-Asian hate crimes does not necessarily reflect the actual number of hate crimes.
“I will tell you, as the previous attorney general of California, I published hate crime reports. Those numbers are always underreported,” she said.
Early on in the pandemic around 1,100 anti-Asian hate incidents were reported. A year later, these incidents have risen to around 6,600, Harris pointed out. “The numbers I just shared with you are not an accurate reflection, necessarily, of the number of hate crimes that have actually occurred.”
Referring to the Atlanta shooting, in which eight people including six people of Asian descent were killed by a shooter, Harris said that she believes that a “harm against any one of us, is a harm against all of us.”
Stop AAPI Hate, a center tracking hate incidents against the AAPI community, received 6,603 complaints about anti-Asian hate incidents between March 19, 2020 and March 31, 2021. It “tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”
Harris said that she and President Biden met Asian American leaders after the Atlanta shootings in March. Stressing on the need to recognize the interconnection between people, Harris said that, “Asian Americans have the right to be recognized as American, not as the other – not as them, but as us.”
The vice president referred to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, sponsored by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono and Democratic Representative Grace Meng. The bill was signed into a law by President Biden on May 20.
“Hate has no place in America – and I look forward to making that clear this afternoon by signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law,” Biden tweeted, before signing the bill. The legislation aims to fast-track the review of COVID-19 related hate crimes.
Harris also spoke at length about the issue of voter suppression and how it impacts the AAPI community. She said attempts to attack voting rights had to be fought.
“More than 360 bills to restrict the right to vote have been introduced in nearly every state in the United States of America,” Harris said. “Many of these bills, specifically target vote by mail. And let’s be clear about this, (they) specifically target votes by mail, while 64% of Asian Americans vote by mail.”
According to AAPI data, turnout among Asian American citizens grew from 49.3% in 2014 to 59.5% in 2020. The turnout increased from 41.2% in 2016 to 55.7% in 2020 among Pacific Islanders. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters, making up to 4.7% of all eligible voters in the U.S. according to PEW Research Center.
“We must see these efforts for what they are, let’s be clear eyed, they are an attempt to suppress the right to vote,” Harris said, while emphasizing the need to expand the right to vote by urging the Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act, and the Senate to pass the For The People Act, “and to send both to the president’s desk for signature.”
She summed it up: “As far as I’m concerned, voting rights is not Democratic right or a Republican right. It is an American right.”
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the after-party fundraiser, said, “The AAPI community showed in this last presidential election what a difference you can make and now we’ve got to keep it up because there are elections all the time.”