(Reuters) – Lawmakers, professors and actor Daniel Dae Kim on Thursday joined a U.S. congressional hearing on anti-Asian discrimination and violence, two days after the fatal shootings of six Asian women and two others in Georgia.
The hearing was scheduled before the attack to investigate a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, which rose by 149% in 2020 in 16 major cities compared with 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Experts have linked the surge to the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, after some Americans, including former President Donald Trump, started calling the coronavirus the “China virus,” “the China plague” and the “kung flu.”
A 21-year-old white man has been charged with killing eight people, six of them Asian women, at three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. Police are investigating motives and have not ruled out the possibility that the attacks were provoked, at least in part, by anti-immigrant or anti-Asian sentiments.
“I was deeply shaken by the angry current in our nation,” said Democratic lawmaker Doris Matsui, who was born in an internment camp that held Americans of Japanese descent in World War II. “The heat of discourse at the highest levels of our government cannot be viewed in isolation from the ensuing violence in our communities.”
The spike in anti-Asian American incidents in the past year included people being slashed with a box cutter, lit on fire and verbal harassment, said Steve Cohen, the Democratic chair of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
“All the pandemic did was exacerbate latent anti-Asian prejudices that have a long, long and ugly history in America,” said Cohen.
In the closely divided House, the hearing quickly lapsed into partisan politics, however.
In a sprawling opening speech, Republican lawmaker Chip Roy said the subject matter was important, but then moved on to attacking China’s treatment of its Uighur community and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
He added he hoped the hearing would address how affirmative action policies by U.S. universities hurt Asian Americans.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall)