Vox, June 2021
The largest federal response to a surge in attacks against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic has been Congress’s Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. The law, passed last month, designates a specific Justice Department official to focus on reviewing such incidents and provides grants to police departments so they can establish hotlines for hate crime reporting. According to multiple experts, however, hate crime laws, like the one Congress just passed, serve a symbolic purpose but don’t really do much to deter people from committing hate crimes.
In fact, much of the conversation around hate crimes has centered on what happens after an attack has already taken place. There’s been a focus on the collection of hate crime data, calls for more policing or security in various communities, and an examination of the types of penalties that perpetrators should face. Meanwhile, lawmakers have overlooked perhaps the most important piece: prevention.
“Nobody says I’m not going to beat that person up because I’m going to get arrested for a hate crime law. What they do is send a message that this behavior is egregious,” says California State University professor Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a criminal justice expert who studies hate crimes. “It puts this official seal that this behavior is harmful for different communities.”
While experts note that such messaging is important, and gathering more information about the problem could potentially help target a response, activists are concerned that the collected data could be used to strengthen a carceral system that’s already been shown to be both ineffective and discriminatory, particularly toward Black Americans.