California bills aim to curb anti-Asian attacks on women and vulnerable groups

California lawmakers, working with nonprofit groups Stop AAPI Hate and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, introduced two bills on Thursday aimed at addressing harassment and violence against women and others. vulnerable populations in public spaces, including streets and transit platforms.

Supporters say the bills, shared first with NBC Asian America, are among the first in the nation to define discrimination and street harassment as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.

The bills come at a time when attacks on Asians in the United States are on the rise, and they are aimed specifically at curbing the violence.

From March 2020 to July 2021, Stop AAPI Hate collected reports of more than 9,000 hate incidents nationwide against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, nearly 40% of which occurred in California, which is home to the largest AAPI population in the country. Two-thirds of the incidents were reported by women, and the majority of them took place in public spaces or businesses.

State Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, introduced the first bill, which aims to protect women and other vulnerable groups of cyclists on public transit systems.

Proposed legislation would require the state’s 10 largest transit districts to study the types of harassment commuters experience — which range from name-calling to bullying and sexual assault — and develop data-driven initiatives to promote safe driving.

“From the first mile to the last, no Californian should feel unsafe on the way to work, school or anywhere else,” Min said in a statement. “This bill will help restore confidence in the safety of public transport so that everyone – especially women and minorities – can travel from place to place without fear.”

The second bill, introduced by Assemblymen Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, and Dr. Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, would direct the California Department of Public Health to conduct a multi-year public education campaign – accessible to residents with limited English proficiency – raise awareness of street harassment.

“Everyone has the right to move freely and have a sense of peace in public spaces, streets and sidewalks,” Weber said in a statement. “The reality is that street harassment against women and vulnerable communities is all too common and is rarely addressed by current laws.”

The initiatives come at a difficult time for Asian Americans, who are reeling from the brutal murder of two women in New York: Christina Lee, who was allegedly stabbed more than 40 times on Sunday by a man who followed her in his appartment ; and Michelle Go, who was pushed onto the subway tracks a month earlier. Authorities are investigating whether Lee was the target of a crime due to racial animosity or belief. Go’s alleged attacker has not been charged with a hate crime.

“Unfortunately, what our data shows is that many other members of our community have experienced something very similar,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of the national reporting center Stop AAPI Hate, which sponsored both projects. of law.

The sheer volume of bias incidents on the streets and on public transportation, Kulkarni said, motivated the group to work with state lawmakers on policy solutions.

Stop AAPI Hate and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative sponsored a third bill that has yet to be introduced but focuses on another area that has caused an influx of anti-Asian incidents: big business.

Nearly a third of the incidents recorded since the start of the pandemic have taken place in merchants, grocery stores or restaurants, according to data from Stop AAPI Hate. Harassment experienced by Asian customers has primarily taken the form of racialized and often sexist verbal abuse from other customers.

The measure directs the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to develop a training resource for businesses and a pilot program that recognizes those who create welcoming spaces for all customers. It would also force large companies offering in-person services to tackle harassment between customers based on protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity and gender.

Kulkarni said she hopes the three policy proposals could eventually form a model for other cities with large Asian populations.

“We wish California could once be a trailblazer,” she said, “this time to ensure the safety and well-being of Asian Americans in the United States.”

Bernard P. Love