Hate-Crime Bill Advances in State Legislature With Support of Asian Americans

Legislation would strengthen existing law by requiring collection of data on victims and perpetrators that might point to causes and prevention of bias-assaults.


Riders wait for the Train Q and R Southbound in Times Square Station platform, where Michelle Go was standing. Credit: Evelyn Nam for NY City Lens.

Asian-American community leaders are applauding two bills advancing in the New York State legislature aimed at bolstering anti-bias crime laws.

The Senate passed the Hate Crimes Analysis and Review Act, S7807, on Jan. 26, which was introduced last month by Senator Brad Hoylman. The bill amends earlier legislation, S.70a, by directing the Division of Criminal Justice Services to create regulations regarding the methods and timing of collecting the demographic data of victims and perpetrators of bias crimes. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Hoylman said. “I believe high quality data we can trust from the State of New York will show us more about how to prevent and stop hate crimes.” 

Senator Brad Hoylman, writer of Hate Crimes and Analysis Review Act. (Photo courtesy of New York Senate)

Anna W. Mok, president and executive board chair at Ascend, the largest pan-Asian business professional organization in North America, said she supports the legislation. Laws dealing with hate crimes “are in some ways an acknowledgment that these are things that are actually happening to the community,” she said. Gathering more data will help identify causes and preventive measures for bias crimes, she said.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that Asian American and Pacific islander students experience classroom bullying at higher rates than any other racial groups. Many people of Asian descent point out that they, and especially Asian women, are an “easy target,” throughout adulthood. Last year alone, there were the shootings at Atlanta-area spas that left eight dead, including six Asians. In New York, there was Yao Pan Ma in East Harlem, Maggie Cheng’s mother in Queens, Than Than Htwe and her husband in Brooklyn, the Filipino-American woman who was told that she “does not belong here” in Times Square as she was kicked and shoved to the ground, and Potri Ranka Manis who was punched in the head while being told to “go back to her country.” 

The hate crime rate against Asians, as reported by the NYPD, has risen 339% since the start of 2021. Last year saw an increase of 361% from 2020 in hate crimes against Asians. Community groups say hate crimes are vastly underreported. Many Asians fear they won’t be protected after reporting assaults. Some share an immigration story of escaping oppressive governments in their native countries; others fear that speaking up will prevent them from assimilating as an immigrant. 

Michelle Go’s death on Jan. 15 happened against such a backdrop. Mok said that while she hasn’t concluded that Go’s death was bias-motivated, the question of “why her” remains. The docile, soft and less-likely-to-report stereotype of Asian women often makes them more vulnerable, even for accomplished individuals like Go, Mok said. Go was a graduate of NYU Stern School of Business and a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting.  

“The fear felt in our community is real, and the death of Michelle Go is a reminder that it is well-founded,” said Ravi Reddi, associate director for policy and advocacy at the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit social services organization.

Establishing any attack as a hate crime is challenging, according to Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School. The statutes on hate crimes generally “demand a clear causal link between the defendant and the conduct,” he said. “You really have to show that the attack wouldn’t have happened but for the person’s race or other protected identities.” The burden of proof is difficult to overcome for prosecutors, Richman said. “Getting in the minds of someone who commits a hideous crime is always going to be a challenge,” he said. The current New York statute defines hate crime as one that harms based on a belief or perception regarding a person’s identity such as race, color, national origin, and others. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg condemned hate crimes against Asians as “intolerable” at a vigil held Jan. 21 for Yao Pan Ma, a 61-year-old Chinese immigrant man who died as a result of an assault in East Harlem. He said his office is expanding its hate crimes unit “so that we can give these cases the resources they deserve.” The accused assailant against Ma was initially charged with attempted murder and two counts of assault as a hate crime. Those charges were upgraded to homicide following Ma’s death. 

Asians make up approximately 14.09% of the New York City population, according to the World Population Review.