Senate approves bill aimed at combating hate crimes against Asian Americans

By JALEN WADE Capital News Service Washington Bureau


On a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate Thursday passed legislation aimed at speeding federal investigations of hate crimes against Asian Americans related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Passing the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act sends a clear and unmistakable message of solidarity to the (Asian American-Pacific Islander) community,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who introduced the bill last month. “This moment would not be possible without the collective efforts of so many people including my Republican colleagues.” 

The Senate vote to pass the hate crimes bill was 94-1, with Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley the lone opponent. The legislation now goes to the House for a final vote, which is likely next month, according to Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, sponsor of an identical House bill. 

President Joe Biden supports the legislation.

“Today, the Senate said enough is enough, and underscored loud and clear that there is no place for hate anywhere in our society,” Meng said in a statement after the Senate vote. “More reporting of hate crimes will provide us with increased data and a more accurate picture of the attacks that have been occurring against those of Asian descent, and a more centralized and unified way of reviewing these crimes would help to address the problem in a more effective manner.”

In addition to speeding federal probes of hate crimes against Asian Americans, the measure directs the Department of Justice to provide state and local law enforcement agencies with guidelines for establishing hate crimes reporting systems in multiple languages. The Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services also would work with community groups to eliminate discriminatory language in materials related to the pandemic. 

Within the past few months, the country has seen a startling rise in the number of cases of violence against Asian Americans, including the March 16 shooting of six Asian American women in Atlanta. 

Research released by Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit group, revealed nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic.

Verbal harassment and shunning were the most common types of discrimination, making up 68.1 percent and 20.5 percent of the reports, respectively, the group found. The third category, physical assault, made up 11.1 percent of the total incidents. More than a third of incidents occurred at businesses, while a quarter took place in public streets.

Despite Congress, human rights groups, the press and social media taking notice of these hate crimes now, this is not a recent phenomenon, said author William Ming Liu.

Liu compared the situation to how the frequent video recording of police violence on Blacks caused people to think it’s a recent phenomenon. 

“People are much smarter and more willing to record these things, but in terms of overall violence and abuse, that’s always been there,” Liu said in an interview with Capital News Service.

Tiffany Chang, director of community engagement for Asians Advancing Justice, said an annual increase of 150 percent in hate crimes is an incredibly shocking number considering that the country has been in a pandemic. She said that many of the victims were likely people simply going out for supplies or were essential workers.

The anti-Asian rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump as the pandemic intensified was a key factor in encouraging hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, Chang and other researchers said.

“There was a press conference with footage of him crossing out the word ‘coronavirus’ on his talking points and writing in ‘China virus,’ as if to deliberately stoke animosity against Asians and Asian Americans, Chinese Americans in particular,” Chang said.

This scapegoating gives people who are angry at the state of affairs created by the pandemic an outlet, she added. 

It doesn’t help that there are so few Asian Americans in the higher levels of government, said Jonathan Law, an organizer for Baltimore Asian American Resistance, which seeks to address systemic problems facing Asian-Americans.

According to Chang, Asian Americans have been trying to protect themselves by sticking closely together. Families have been telling their grandparents and parents not to go out alone or to ask someone to run their errands for them. 

Chang’s Asians Advancing Justice have been working with another activist group to provide free, online bystander intervention training to anyone who wishes to learn practical techniques to help someone being attacked or harassed in public. 

Chang said that of the 30,000 people trained, nearly 100 percent have said they were confident that they could do something if they saw harassment occurring.

Although Liu is glad to see so many Asian Americans come together on this, he said he wishes he saw more of a multicultural coalition against hate crimes and discrimination.

“There’s nothing worse for someone who believes in white supremacy to see a multi-racial coalition protecting themselves,” Liu said.

House passes DC statehood, Senate prospects dim

By HANNAH FIELDS, RAYONNA BURTON-JERNIGAN and MADISON PEEK Capital News Service Washington Bureau

House Democrats passed legislation Thursday that would grant statehood to the District of Columbia. The 216-208 party-line vote sends the measure to the Senate, where it does not appear to have the necessary 60 votes to pass.

The Washington D.C. Admission Act, symbolically numbered H.R. 51, would create Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, with two senators and a representative in the House, totaling three electoral college votes. 

“Statehood for D.C. is about fairness, justice, and ensuring that all Americans have an equal stake in our republic,” the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said in her closing remarks. “This is not about politics. It’s a fundamental voting and civil rights issue.”

The bill was authored and introduced by the District’s Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been leading the movement for statehood for decades. The bill has 216 House co-sponsors; an identical piece of legislation passed in the House last year. 

Norton, who first introduced the bill 10 years ago with no co-sponsors, has argued continuously that District residents pay more in state and federal taxes than other states but have no voting representation in Congress. 

“Congress has both the moral obligation and the constitutional authority to pass H.R. 51,” Norton said. “This country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed, but D.C. residents are taxed without representation and cannot consent to the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said statehood was a civil rights issue and a matter of equality of citizenship. 

“In no other democratic nation in the world, does the capital city of that nation not have a vote in their parliament,” Hoyer said. “Now our ‘parliament’ is called the Congress.”

Republicans called the bill unconstitutional. They also were upset over the implications of an overwhelmingly Democratic city adding two Democratic senators to a closely-divided Senate.

Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, said the bill attempted to ignore the Founding Fathers’ intent for the capital, adding that statehood would be an unconstitutional, impractical and blatant power grab.

“America’s government will become of the Democrats, by the Democrats, and for the Democrats,” Comer said. “H.R. 51 is all about the Democrats adding two new progressive U.S. senators to push a radical agenda… to reshape America into the socialist utopia they alway talk about.”

Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, offered “retrocession” as an alternative, giving District residents full federal representation. Putting the District “back into Maryland would give them that added seat and would address that very issue.”

“The GOP is acting in good faith because we know that seat will be a Democratic seat, but it’s the right thing to do,” Fallon said.

Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-New York, rebutted Republicans’ arguments, saying: “There is no good faith argument for disenfranchising over 700,000 people, most of whom are people of color.”

The White House voiced its support for District statehood on Tuesday, issuing a policy statement saying that it “will make our Union stronger and more just” and calling on Congress to give the residents of the nation’s capital “long overdue full representation in Congress.”

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding a tie-breaking vote. The problem for District statehood, as it is for many other matters before the Senate, is that it would require 60 votes to end an expected filibuster by GOP opponents. 

No Republican senator so far has embraced District statehood. And some Senate Democrats have not said how they would vote on the idea.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is expected to press for a vote on District statehood. After the House vote, he tweeted: “This is about democracy. It’s about self-government. It’s about voting rights. I was proud to re-introduce this bill in the Senate, and we are working to make #DCStatehood a reality.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and the chief statehood sponsor in the Senate, has asked former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to help lobby undecided senators to vote for the House-passed bill, Forbes reported.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told the magazine there was “zero chance” he could be persuaded by his close friend Lieberman to end his vehement opposition to statehood.

The League of Women Voters urged the Senate to pass the bill.

“D.C. statehood is not a partisan issue but a civil rights issue which cannot be separated from the fight for racial justice,” League CEO Virginia Kase said in a statement. “As D.C. is a jurisdiction with a majority population of Black and Brown people, continued efforts to block full representation is discrimination against the people who live, work, and pay taxes in the District.”

“For decades, Congress has refused to vote on statehood, based on racist accusations that D.C. cannot govern itself,” she said. “ It is long past time that we dispel these racist and discriminatory excuses and deliver justice to the residents of our nation’s capital.”  

Maryland music venues struggle to stay afloat

Ottobar, a Baltimore indie-rock music venue, lost 95% of its annual revenue when it was shut down during the pandemic. (Photo Credit: Ottobar)

By MADISON HUNT 
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Independent music venues continue to struggle financially to survive while in the midst of Maryland’s lifted pandemic restrictions and vaccine accessibility. 

Tecla Tesnau, owner of Baltimore’s indie-rock club Ottobar, said she remembers when she thought the pandemic was only going to last two weeks. 

“It was all of a sudden, we just ran into this crazy brick wall of COVID,”  Tesnau said. “We effectively went from a very successful business to zero business.”  

The home of rock lovers became a ghost town, and the once 30-member staff slowly went down to eight people as the pandemic continued, Tesnau said. 

According to the National Independent Venue Association — an organization with more than 3,000 independent live entertainment venues and promoters from across the country — independent music venues were the first to close during the pandemic and they will be the last to fully reopen. 

Ottobar lost 95% of their annual revenue, which is generated from ticket sales and concessions after they were forced to shut down because of the pandemic, Tesnau said.  

“It’s just absolutely devastating to realize that something you’ve worked so hard for, you’re just unable to continue to do,” Tesnau said.  

Fortunately, Ottobar was granted an award from Maryland and started a GoFundMe page in 2020 that a year later has generated almost $150,000, according to Tesnau. (https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-the-ottobar)

“The city really saved Ottobar,” Tesnau said. “Because the bills don’t stop coming just because you stop business.” 

On Jan. 15, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced his plans to distribute $30 million in awards to Maryland’s entertainment industry impacted by the pandemic, according to the governor’s website. 

The awards were given to 49 for-profit or nonprofit live entertainment and music venues, 27 independently owned movie theaters and 16 live entertainment promoters, the website said. 

However, even with the state’s financial assistance most music venues were still depending on federal funding to get through the pandemic, venue owners said. 

Audrey Fix Schaefer, head of communications for I.M.P —  an independent concert and promotion company — said federal funding will be the only thing that will help independent venues from closing. 

The Anthem, The Lincoln Theatre, Merriweather Post Pavilion and the 9:30 Club all fall under I.M.P’s production company.  

The National Independent Venue Association worked up to a year trying to get Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act, which would provide $15 billion in pandemic relief to independent venues across the country. 

Schaefer, who is also a board member for the National Independent Venue Association, said they worked relentlessly to get the bill passed. 

“We fought for eight to then months to get some type of financial assistance, because there was none,” Schaefer said. “No matter how iconic of a venue you are, there’s just no way anybody could have prepared for this.” 

The bill got bipartisan support and was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020, Schafer said. 

Unfortunately, local independent music venues still have yet to receive any grant money from this bill because of technical issues with the website, venue owners said. 

The portal was finally opened April 8, but the website crashed and has not been back up since, according to Schaefer. 

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for so many that have barely hung on,” Schaefer said. “And it is through no fault of their own, they’ve done all the right things.”

As well, this financial blow to many local music venues impacts surrounding businesses, music venue experts said.

According to a Chicago Loop Alliance study, for every dollar spent at an independent music venue, an additional $12 goes into surrounding businesses.

With the rollout of more vaccines and lifted restrictions, music venue owners said they are hopeful that they can return to normal operations over the summer. 

I.M.P. is encouraging everyone who gets their newsletter to preregister for the vaccine, and they even used Merriweather Post Pavilion as a COVID testing site during the pandemic, Schaefer said. 

“It’s something we’re trying to  partner for the health of the community, how lucky we are that there are vaccines available now,” she said. 

Tesnau also said she is excited about the vaccination rollout, and hopes that this means life can get back to “normal.”

“We can’t keep continuing to hold the pause button, we absolutely have to try to make plans to get back to what our lives used to look like,” Tesnau said.   

In Washington, Chauvin guilty verdict is call to pass police reform measures

Photo: Clay Banks

By JALEN WADE, JOY SAHA, JENNIFER MANDATO and CLARA LONGO DE FREITASCapital News Service Washington Bureau
After a jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic congressional leaders saw the verdict as a call to enact news laws against nationwide police brutality. 

“Because of smartphones, so many Americans have now seen the racial injustice that black Americans have known for generations,” Harris said in a nationally televised address from the White House’s Cross Hall.

“Here’s the truth about racial injustice: it’s not just a Black America problem or a people of color problem,” Harris said before Biden spoke. “It is a problem of every American, it is keeping us from the promise of liberty and justice for all.”

Biden repeated Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”

“We can’t let those words die with him,” the president said. “We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can’t turn away.””This can be a moment of significant change,” Biden said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that “while the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death.”

He said the Justice Department’s civil rights probe into Floyd’s death “is ongoing,”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a press conference from the Capitol that the verdict was a “step in the right direction.”  Pelosi thanked the jury for validating what she and the world saw on tape.

“George Floyd should be alive today,” she said on Twitter. “His family’s calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world. He did not die in vain. We must make sure other families don’t suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicing Act.”

That legislation passed the House in March and now awaits action in the closely-divided Senate. 

“This bill would hold law enforcement account and build trust between law enforce and our communities” Harris said. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, urged the Senate to pass the reform bill.

“But we can only do so much by legislation alone,” he said. “Our nation must reckon with racial bias and with the reality that, even 158 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, America is still not free from the legacy of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized racism. Justice, equality, and opportunity are still being denied to Black Americans, and we must all confront this painful truth.”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer D-New York, said that the trial served to affirm what many people were already aware of, that Floyd had been murdered in cold blood. But Schumer said that the verdict alone did not end the rampant problem with police conduct in the country.  

The divide between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect have not yet been bridged, Schumer said. 

“We must remain diligent in our efforts to bring meaningful change to police departments across the country,” Schumer said. “The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure George Floyd’s tragic death will not be in vain.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, also urged action on the police reform bill named after Chauvin’s victim.

“While today’s verdict was just, we must think of the Black Americans who have never received justice,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “We must move with urgency to confront and defeat systemic racism in all its forms, and Congress must act immediately to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” 

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said that the reform measure includes additional provisions that prohibit the “use of racial and religious profiling by police” and changes how law enforcement interacts with marginalized communities. 

“As a nation, we simply must do more to ensure that the basic human rights of Americans are protected at all times, even if they are suspected of a crime,” Cardin said. “We also must fundamentally reform our thinking and systems so that individuals are not assumed suspects because of the color of their skin or the clothes they wear. It’s morally wrong and a waste of legitimate police resources.“

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh also called for further action both nationally and locally.

“Justice has been done,” Frosh said. “But this cannot be the end. Systemic problems with policing and with equal justice require reform.”   

Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, tweeted that “this verdict is justice served – but it is not justice for George Floyd.”

“True justice would be a country where George Floyd would still be alive today,” the senator said. “True justice demands action – it demands change & that we do everything we can to stop this from happening again & again & again.”  

Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, during an arrest made by four Minneapolis police officers, including Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, resulting in his death.

Chauvin’s trial began March 29. The jury found him guilty on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.   

Following the verdict, Biden and Harris called the Floyd family. Biden comforted the family, saying the trial would be the start of change. 

Advocacy groups, while noting that the verdict was a sign of justice, still continue to fight for other issues. The NAACP website acknowledged that “the jury has spoken, but our lives are still on the line.” A link to a petition for police reform followed the statement. 

“We will never begin to achieve true justice for George Floyd until our country completely transforms public safety to save Black lives and reduce racist police violence,” the American Civil Liberties Union said on Twitter.

Honeycomb Hideout: Another Year Older, But Wiser?

Photo by Fotografierende (Pexels)

Dear Honeycomb Hideout,

My birthday is coming up. I won’t reveal my age, but it’s 20 something.  Looking at the last year, I realized that I haven’t done as much as I wanted, and the idea of turning older is weighing on me hard. Do you have any advice on how to relieve some of this stress? 

Sincerely, 

Not So Happy Birthday

First, let me say happy birthday, regardless of how you feel about the day, because on this day you came into this earth, so happy birthday. I’d like to say that you should enjoy your birthday. It’s the one day of the year where your loved ones come together to show you that they love and appreciate you. For not feeling like you accomplished anything this year, we were in a global pandemic so cut yourself some slack. Even if everyone else around you got married, new jobs, graduated, whatever, good for them, but you know what that means? Nothing.  Your timetable of how things happen in your life is how they happen. We have this idea that we have to finish school in 4 years, get married by 25, have a house and 2 kids by 30. All of these ideas that society has placed on us have led to huge amounts of stress nobody should feel. Some of our favorite celebrities didn’t become successful until later on.  Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman, even the more recently problematic JK Rowling didn’t get her start until she was 32. Needless to say about any of this is that it doesn’t matter when it gets done as long as you get it done.

You should, however, think of your birthday as a mile marker instead of looking at all you have yet to do. Take pride in all of your accomplishments, no matter how small, because in one of history’s most bizarre years ever you survived! Now, take time to start planning out the goals you want to try to achieve before your next birthday. I personally say you do this the day after your actual birthday. For your actual birthday, kick back and relax. It’s your day, so you should enjoy it and save the existential dread for another day. 

Happy Birthday to you from your friend, HCHO.

Cicadas will soon invade the state of Maryland

Michael Raupp is holding a group of newly emerged cicadas known as nymphs. (Photo Credit: Michael Raupp and the University of Maryland)

By MADISON HUNT 
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Brood X, a new generation of cicadas, will begin to show up in Maryland in the next few weeks,  after a 17-year-long hiatus. 

These periodical cicadas  — cicadas that emerge every 17 years — are only found along the eastern half of the United States, according to experts. 

The red-eyed, “straw-nosed” bug will begin to show up as early as late April, will fully emerge by the beginning of May and last until June, experts said. 

Michael Raupp, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, said this will be one of the largest groups of cicadas the states have seen. 

“It’s called the Great Northern Brood,” Raupp told Capital News Service. “There will be literally billions, if not trillions, of these periodical cicadas emerging more or less simultaneously.”

This brood of cicadas are found in 15 states, ranging from Georgia to Northern Virginia, as well as along the state of Mississippi, Raupp said. 

This group is made up of three different species — Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula — according to The Washington Post. 

During their hibernation period, these cicadas have been feeding off the liquid found on plants and leaves known as sap, experts said. 

“Their immature stages, which we call nymphs, feed on a liquid diet,” Raupp said. “When the adults emerge they will also feed on this same fluid.” 

After the bugs emerge from the ground, typically at night, they will fly to vertical structures and shed their skin, Raupp said. By the next morning their exoskeleton will have hardened, and they will be able to fly, leading them to the treetops, he continued. 

This is where the noise begins, the distinct mating calls of cicadas are some of the reasons most people find these bugs annoying, according to experts. 

According to Raupp, the cicada’s sound levels can get as high as 80 to 100 decibels, which is the volume of a lawnmower or a jet aircraft going by. 

During their time in Maryland, they will become a delicacy to many animals and even some people, cicada experts said. 

“Birds will eat them, raccoons will eat them, turtles will eat them,” Raupp continued, “I will surely be snacking on a few as well.” 

These bugs are highly nutritious and high in protein, according to experts. 

Even though there is a lot of anticipation for the new wave of these unique bugs, there are also some negative connotations that come with them. 

Dawn Biehler, associate professor in the department of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who studies the social impacts and cultural connotations of insects, said she’s gotten different responses from the anticipated invasion. 

According to Biehler, Marylanders are either excited about the opportunity to reconnect with these bugs or they aren’t looking forward to one more thing adding to the tumultuous year. 

“People get really grossed out about the way they emerge from the ground, they seem like zombies in a way,” she said.

Biehler recommends that Marylanders prepare themselves by learning a little bit more about the bugs in advance, or prepare for another couple of months of isolation. 

Raupp also recommended that Marylanders cover their small trees and shrubs from the cicadas with netting gear. 

“They are going to damage the branches,” Raupp said. “The trick here is the netting should have a mesh size of one centimeter or less, that’s about three-eighths of an inch.” 

Raupp stressed that these bugs are a natural phenomenon, so there should be more of an embrace for these bugs than hatred. 

“It only happens a few times in your lifetime, so get out and enjoy these things,” Raupp said.