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Rep. Marylin Strickland On Anti-Asian Violence And Renewing Violence Against Women Act


We are going to start with a focus on two disturbing trends in the United States, both of which were highlighted by the shooting spree directed at several Atlanta-area businesses that left six Asian women dead. We are speaking about a rise in hate crimes aimed at Asian Americans and a rise in violence toward women.

That is the backdrop of the House vote last week to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, legislation which strengthens protections for women from domestic violence and sexual assault. The law lapsed in 2019, when the Republican-led Senate declined to reauthorize it. Its fate in the Senate is once again in question.

On the House floor this week, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, one of the first three Korean American women elected to Congress and the first African American and Korean woman, made the point that the attacks in Atlanta highlighted the importance of reauthorizing this law.


MARILYN STRICKLAND: As a woman who is Black and Korean, I'm acutely aware of how it feels to be erased or ignored and how the default position when violence is committed against people of color or women is to defer from confronting the hate that is often the motivation.

MARTIN: And Congresswoman Strickland, a Democrat from Washington State, is with us now.

Congresswoman, I'm sorry about the circumstances, but I appreciate this chance to talk with you. Welcome.

STRICKLAND: Thank you for having me on your show, Michel.

MARTIN: First, I did want to start by asking, what has this week brought up for you?

STRICKLAND: You know, this week has brought up the fact that the Asian American Pacific Islander community has been talking about this violence that's been happening. And, you know, a lot of this has just been a result of rhetoric. There is an anti-Asian sentiment that is just bubbling to the surface. And then tragically, on Tuesday night, we saw these deaths happen at a spa.

And so for me, this was just heartbreaking. It was jarring. But I think for a lot of people in the AAPI community, we've been saying for a while now, this is real. Please send some help. Please make it stop.

MARTIN: To that end, though, California State University has a center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and they've documented that anti-Asian hate crimes in major U.S. cities rose by nearly 150% last year. And there - you know, there are other entities that are doing different accounting that have similar figures and even higher. So I find myself wanting to ask, have you experienced this yourself?

STRICKLAND: I have not experienced it myself, but because of COVID and lockdowns, I really haven't been out in public, right? And, you know, I think part of this too just really highlights that when we talk about hate crimes, the Asian American community isn't the group that comes top of mind when people have that conversation.

And so, as you know, you know, with COVID, and the fact that the virus was first discovered in China, and then the president calling it the China virus and kung flu (ph) and just making it all about an anti-Asian sentiment, that really has just made things elevate. And also, overall hate crimes have actually gone down. But with anti-Asian hate crimes, they've actually gone up.

MARTIN: So in your remarks on the floor, you drew a connection between the shootings in Atlanta and the importance of getting the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized. You said - I'm quoting you here - "this crime has elements that we are trying to address here in Congress." So could you just tell us a bit more about, what are those elements, and how would this renewed legislation address those?

STRICKLAND: Well, I mean, I would say one thing. It's just bringing awareness to the fact that this shooting that took place in Atlanta was an act of violence against women. And I talked about the fact that we passed in the House common-sense background checks for gun sales. We passed the Violence Against Women Act. You know, we are bringing to light the fact that there is a need to have a hate crimes commission.

There are examples that just keep coming up related to this legislation we want to pass. And people want accountability, but more importantly, we want it to stop.

MARTIN: One of the most contentious issues in the House bill seems to be a provision that would bar someone with a misdemeanor conviction of domestic abuse or stalking from purchasing a gun. Why is that the focal point? And are you concerned about this getting through the Senate?

STRICKLAND: I'm always concerned about things getting through a Senate because we know that it takes 60 votes. And so, you know, hopefully, watching these lives get taken and watching these tragedies and violence take place will be enough for people to decide that this is something they can vote for. But when you think about intimate partner violence and gun violence, there is a connection. And the majority of women who die from gun violence die because of an intimate partner who has a gun. And so there's so many intersections here that we're trying to address - again, gun violence, violence against women.

And let's talk about the racism that's here. I know that, you know, when the sheriff first talked about this, he described it as someone having a bad day or that, well, you know, he didn't say it was about racism. But you cannot deny the intersection between someone saying that he was addicted to sex and the fact that there is racism and sexism and misogyny involved in all of this.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I understand that whether you, you know, want to be or not, you are a kind of a bridge between communities, right? You are visibly African American, right?


MARTIN: You are visibly Asian. And you - I noted on your swearing in, you wore traditional Korean dress worn for formal occasions to honor your heritage from your mother's side. And I felt like that had to have been a kind of a powerful experience. Is this opening some door up for you perhaps to express things that perhaps you hadn't been? Maybe it had been siloed - a siloed experience for you. And is this bringing something together, in a way?

MARTIN: You know, for so long, we've seen mainstream culture try to pit communities of color against each other. I will admit that in the Korean community, there are people who aren't exactly friendly to African Americans. And in the African American community, there are people who aren't friendly to Asians. And so there are a lot of complexities that come with these relationships. But I think for too long, there's been this idea that all minorities and people of color are pitted against each other sometimes, and we're not paying attention to the bigger picture, was that we all have this shared experience.

So there is a pattern here. And for me, this represents an opportunity for people to come together. I remember during the height of the Black Lives movement, when people were protesting, I would see lots of people who had masks on that said Koreans for Black Lives or Asian Americans for Black lives. So there's an opportunity here for us to unite.

But just thinking about the history of this nation and how we have a responsibility to make it better - it's kind of hard to believe that in 2021, these things are still happening. Sometimes it renders me speechless, but I also view it as an opportunity to try and pull people together.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland. She is a Democrat from Washington state.

Congresswoman Strickland, thank you so much for sharing this time with us.

STRICKLAND: All right. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.