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Photo: Ringo Chiu: Getty Images
Photo: Ringo Chiu: Getty Images

New California bills hope to combat anti-Asian violence

The bills are sponsored by national nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, which combats anti-Asian hate nationwide.

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On Thursday, Feb. 17, California lawmakers introduced two bills aiming to combat harassment and violence against women and other vulnerable populations in public spaces. 

The bills, which are both sponsored by the nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate, are some of the first in the country to establish street discrimination and harassment as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one. 

The bills come at a time when attacks against Asians in the U.S., especially towards women and the elderly, are increasing. 

From March 2020 to July 2021, Stop AAPI Hate documented more than 9,000 incidents nationwide against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. Forty percent of these attacks occurred in California, which is home to the country’s largest AAPI population. 

Two-thirds of these incidents were reported by women, and a majority of them took place in public spaces or businesses.

State Sen. Dave Min introduced the first bill, which seeks to protect women and other vulnerable groups of riders on transit systems. 

Last month, 40-year-old Michelle Alyssa Go, a California native and graduate of UCLA, was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming train in New York City. 

The proposed legislation would require the state’s 10 largest transit districts to examine the types of harassment commuters experience, such as slurs and intimidation, and develop data-driven programs to promote safe ridership. 

“This bill will help restore confidence in the safety of public transportation so that everyone — especially women and minorities — can ride from one place to the next without fear,” Min said in a statement. 

The second bill, introduced by Assemblymembers Mia Bonta and Dr. Akilah Weber and sponsored by California Healthy Nail Salon, would direct the state’s health department to conduct a public education campaign to raise awareness about street harassment. 

The campaigns are meant to run multiple times a year and be accessible for people with limited proficiency in English. 

“The reality is street harassment against women and vulnerable communities is all too common and is rarely addressed by current laws,” Weber said. 

Stop AAPI Hate is also sponsoring a third bill that hasn’t been introduced yet. It focuses on another space that has seen a major increase in anti-Asian bias incidents: large businesses. 

According to data from the nonprofit, nearly a third of incidents recorded since the beginning of the pandemic took place at retail stores, grocery stores or restaurants. Asian customers experienced racialialized and often gender-based, verbal abuse from fellow customers. 

The measure would direct the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to develop a training resource for businesses and a pilot program that recognizes those that create welcoming environments for all customers. 

It would also require large businesses to offer in-person service to address customer-on-customer harassment based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity and gender. 

Manjusha P. Kulkarni, co-founder of the national reporting center Stop AAPI Hate, told NBC News that she hopes the three proposals will eventually form a blueprint for other cities with significant Asian populations to emulate. 

“It’s our desire that California can once again be a trailblazer. This time in ensuring the safety and well-being of Asian Americans in the U.S.,” Kulkarni said. 

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