Updated Sep 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Newsom signs bill targeting harassment and hate in public spaces

Photo of protesters holding signs that say: "End Racism," "Enough is Enough," and "Stop Asian Hate"
People rally at a Stop Asian Hate march and rally in Koreatown on March 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo: Mario Tama via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed into law Tuesday a pair of bills aimed at addressing harassment and hate in public spaces after Asian Americans pushed for action.

Why it matters: Two in three of the nearly 11,500 incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate in the last two years involved harassment such as verbal hate speech or inappropriate gestures — but verbal harassment often doesn't meet the legal definition of a hate crime. Advocates say the new laws are a first step toward developing better policy recommendations to address that gap.

  • Data compiled by Stop AAPI Hate shows that 40% of self-reported anti-Asian hate incidents occurred in public spaces.
  • Over 27% took place in businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies. Nearly one in 10 incidents happened on public transit.

Driving the news: The new legislation, which Stop AAPI Hate played a role in developing, requires the Mineta Transportation Institute to research and create tools for assessing harassment of passengers as part of an effort to inform public transit safety initiatives.

  • It also calls on California’s Civil Rights Department to create and implement a pilot program that will incentivize businesses to create environments for customers that are free of discrimination and harassment.
  • The legislation focused on harassment on public transit, in the streets and in businesses because they're where the bulk of incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate take place.
  • Though Asian American advocates and legislators led the bills, they are intended to help bolster protections for all marginalized communities, according to Stop AAPI Hate.

What they're saying: "The vast majority of incidents reported to us do not involve an underlying criminal element whatsoever," Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and executive director of the AAPI Equity Alliance, told Axios prior to the bills' signage.

  • It's why "the criminal legal component is not going to answer all of the ills," she said, pointing to racialized and sexualized comments directed at AAPI women that police wouldn't consider a crime.
  • "But I think that there actually continue to be a whole host of civil rights enforcement mechanisms that have been ignored, neglected, not fully utilized," she noted.
  • "And that's where I will say we are very ambitious, both in terms of state as well as federal levels ... that there are opportunities actually to build a civil rights infrastructure that addresses the need."

The big picture: Hate crimes in California jumped almost 33% from 2020 to 2021, and are at their highest reported level since 2001.

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