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SoCal Politicians Help Guide First Congressional Hearing On Anti-Asian Violence In Three Decades

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Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, was among the Southern California congressional delegation speaking on a hearing on violence and discrimination against Asian Americans. (Screenshot from House Judiciary Committee livestream)
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Congress on Thursday held its first hearing on anti-Asian violence and discrimination in more than three decades. Looming over the proceedings was Tuesday's killing of eight people in Atlanta, including six women of Asian descent.

"We knew this day was coming," said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), who was part of the Southern California delegation testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. She said racist rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump fanned xenophobia.

"What started out last January as dirty looks and verbal assaults has escalated to physical attack and violence against innocent Asian Americans," Chu said.

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WHAT HAPPENED AT THE HEARING

The hearing had been scheduled weeks prior at the urging of Asian American members of Congress who have been sounding the alarm over violence and bias toward the AAPI community since the pandemic began.

But the ranking Republican at the hearing, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, questioned the point of the hearing, saying he felt like it was a move toward restricting free speech. He said he wants to say what he wants about China.

"I'm not going to be ashamed of saying ... I oppose the Chinese Communist Party," Roy said. "We shouldn't be worried about having a committee of members of Congress policing our rhetoric."

That prompted an angry response from Rep.Ted Lieu (D-Torrance): "You can say racist stupid stuff if you want, but I'm asking you to please stop using racist terms like kung flu or Wuhan virus or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus. I am not a virus."

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Newly-elected Republican Congress members from Orange County -- Michelle Steel and Young Kim -- were panelists too and condemned anti-Asian violence. But they also railed against affirmative action, which they called another form of discrimination against Asians.

After discussing the resolution she's co-sponsoring with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) condemning anti-Asian crimes, Steel (R-Seal Beach) devoted half her allotted time to affirmative action.

"Discrimination is against the fundamental value of American culture, and that includes discrimination against the AAPI community in the halls of our schools and universities," Steel said.

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The affirmative action discussion led New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng to say "some of us seem to be going a little off-topic."

Meng wished Steel luck in getting her resolution passed. Meng last year sponsored a resolution condemning anti-Asian hate. It passed, despite 164 Republicans voting in opposition.

KOREAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY 'SICKENED' BY RECENT ATTACKS

Back in Los Angeles, the Korean American Federation reacted to at least four of the Atlanta victims being of Korean descent.

"The Korean American community is shocked and horrified by the shootings," said James An, president of the federation. "We are sickened by the increasing number of attacks on our marginalized communities."

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An said his organization is calling on stakeholders to stop downplaying and misreporting these types of incidents.

"Enough is enough," An said. "For more than a year, our society has failed to properly acknowledge thousands of documented attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Atlanta killing spree is only the latest and most vicious of these hate crimes."

Late Wednesday, the L.A. Police Department issued a statement saying it has been meeting with members of the AAPI community and has stepped up patrols in neighborhoods with large Asian populations, but stressed it isn't aware of any imminent threats of violence against AAPI communities.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Thursday hosted an online summit to discuss hate crimes, which was already scheduled in response to the recent uptick in crimes against the AAPI community during the pandemic.

"If someone is being abused, harassed in any way, sidelined, marginalized, we need to be able to step up to the plate and say, 'Hey, no, that's not going to be allowed here,'" Villanueva said. "And we want every single person to feel as if they're part of the community, and every single person matters."

ALTERNATIVES TO MORE POLICING

Tiffany Do, with the group Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, says there's an entrenched distrust of the police within working-class, immigrant Asian neighborhoods. She says putting more resources into traditional policing would increase that tension.

"People are choosing to invest in police, rather than invest in communities," she told KPCC. "So we call for the divestment of police resources and investing into our communities through parks, through programs -- all these things that are community care and community safety that have nothing to do with [surveilng] us."

Other organizations, such as the legal aid group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, have echoed that call. They've advocated for victims of hate crimes to receive more support, rather than putting more police officers on the street.

Meanwhile, Torrance Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi has co-authored a bill that would create a toll-free hotline to report hate crimes. It would also establish an online reporting system. He said these attacks are crimes against the entire Asian American community:

"We see our fathers, we see our mothers in these hate crimes, especially targeting our most vulnerable. The Georgia case is not just a hate crime against Asians, but it's a hate crime against women. So we need to make sure we're documenting as many of these incidents as possible so law enforcement [and] community organizations can provide the support for the victims and to respond appropriately."

Some individual counties already have such hotlines. In L.A. County, you can call 211, but Muratsuchi's bill would create a centralized reporting and tracking system for the entire state.

Muratsuchi added that the hotline would allow victims and witnesses to report incidents anonymously.

This story has been updated.

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