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Biden Administration Meets With AAPI Rights Groups To Address Anti-Asian Violence

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The deadly shootings around the Atlanta area this week have put more attention on violence and harassment against Asian Americans. NPR's Juana Summers reports on what the federal government is doing to respond.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Even before the Atlanta area shootings, the Biden administration was taking steps to address the recent surge of violence against Asians and Asian Americans. In his prime-time address on the coronavirus pandemic, President Biden denounced vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's wrong. It's un-American. And it must stop.

SUMMERS: Earlier this month, senior White House officials held a listening session with more than a dozen advocates and community leaders. Attendees of that meeting and others held by Attorney General Merrick Garland and Justice Department officials this week say that Biden's efforts have been a welcome change after former President Trump used racist references in his descriptions of COVID-19.

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JO-ANN YOO: It's really nice to meet with our national leaders and leadership without, you know, in a place where they're offering help.

SUMMERS: That's Jo-Ann Yoo of the Asian American Federation. Now, Yoo and other leaders say they want the administration and the Justice Department to take concrete steps to respond. John Yang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice pointed to the department's community relations service.

JOHN YANG: Their job is to interact with the community and not in a law enforcement way, not in a prosecutorial or criminal way. Rather, their job is to go to meet with community members and also serve as a bridge to bring different community members together.

SUMMERS: The Department of Justice says the service has been active in AAPI communities since the start of the pandemic. On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are reintroducing legislation meant to bolster law enforcement's response to hate crimes against Asian Americans. Among other things, the bill would designate a Justice Department official to speed up reviews of hate crimes reported to federal, state or local law enforcement. Biden supports the bill.

But many of the examples of racially targeted harassment and violence may not meet the legal definition of a hate crime, leading some to call for lowering that bar. Cynthia Choi is a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. One thing she says the Justice Department needs to do is to make sure that resources are available in a variety of languages.

CYNTHIA CHOI: You can't be a multiracial democracy and not recognize the fact that there are lots of people whose primary language is not English. We do that with the census. We do that with other types of emergency services, that we make sure that people can be served and get the information that they need to make informed decisions in language.

SUMMERS: And the Justice Department has recently translated its hate crimes resources website and portal into more languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Arabic. Shekar Narasimhan, the chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, said there needs to be a specific leader designated. He's among those who has been bringing up the need for more Asian representation in Biden's Cabinet.

SHEKAR NARASIMHAN: Give us a point person, so every month we can have a briefing. That person can talk to us about what they've learned, what's going on, answer questions and will bring together people from other communities that tend not to get listened to.

SUMMERS: The Department of Justice has not named a point person on these issues, but a department spokesperson says it has more meetings planned with AAPI lawmakers and leaders. Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.