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N.Y. Rep. Grace Meng On Her Bill To Address Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Attacks on and harassment of Asian Americans have skyrocketed in the past year amid the pandemic. President Biden called for an end to the violence in his address to the nation last week.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They're forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American, and it must stop.

KELLY: One person working to make it stop is Congresswoman Grace Meng. She's a Democrat from New York. She has introduced legislation to address the rise in hate crimes, and she joins us now from her district. Congresswoman, welcome.

GRACE MENG: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: What's driving this?

MENG: Well, we had a former president who really used a lot of terms like Chinese virus and kung flu. When a leader who has a tremendous platform uses that sort of incendiary language, it can be really damaging and harmful.

KELLY: I saw the pinned tweet on your Twitter feed, which reads, we must speak up and speak out. Our community has run out of nice. What does that mean? You've run out of nice.

MENG: So I will say that as an Asian American daughter of immigrants born and raised here, a stereotype of the Asian American community is that we are taught to be quiet, to blend in and to fit in. If we're nice enough, if we're quiet enough, you know, we will be accepted and seen as American enough. It's been a challenge to try to talk to our elders, people who are newer immigrants, to get them to speak up and to get them to understand that speaking up and speaking out will help make a difference for others.

KELLY: I mentioned your district is New York City and Queens. And I know you've had attacks there recently. Would you tell us what's happening? Tell us the story of one.

MENG: Sure. Just last week, a young mom in the middle of the daylight was pushing her baby in a stroller. She reported that someone came up to her, yelled Chinese virus and spat in her direction and the baby's direction three times and then ran away.

KELLY: And it sounds like that is one of too many incidents like that that you are hearing about from your district and all over.

MENG: Definitely. People are scared. People are literally telling their elderly parents and grandparents, do not go out. You know, we'll buy groceries for you. I had a mom - that night when I heard about that incident, she had seen it on the news, and she texted me. She said, that's it. I'm not letting my kids play outside anymore.

KELLY: So help me draw the line between your bill and that incident you described of the mom with her kids. How would it prevent attacks like that going forward?

MENG: Well, I don't know honestly if it would prevent it. Right now what's happening, especially at the federal level, is we're not getting enough data from local law enforcement and the local communities. So we really want to use this as a community education effort. We want the Department of Justice to work with local community groups, you know, publish information in multiple languages - you know, anything from, it's not OK to use these racial slurs, to, here's how to report incidents like this. So the goal on all ends, both ends, is really more education and accessible resources for our community.

KELLY: Do you have any Republican co-sponsors?

MENG: Not yet. We are still collecting, and hopefully we'll gain more. We welcome anyone who wants to help us push this forward.

KELLY: That is New York Democrat Grace Meng speaking to us from New York.

Congresswoman, thank you.

MENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.