If there’s one sad truth about every tragedy, it’s that people will look around for someone to blame.
In 2001, American Muslims found themselves singled out for abuse in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Two decades into the endless war on terror, they’re still the subject of groundless hatred.
American Jews have felt the same hatred, most recently and horribly, in the Tree of Life killings in Pittsburgh in 2018. Black Americans have endured that hatred for generations, dating back to the country’s founding.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian-Americans have found themselves the targets of fresh abuse by those – including President Donald Trump – who continue to incorrectly call the global pandemic a “Chinese virus.”
“This pandemic has unleashed a torrent of hate and violence by bigots who blame Asian Americans for the global pandemic – we have been intimidated, spit on, physically attacked,” Marian Lien, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, said in a statement. “Hundreds of people have come forward, but we know hundreds more go unreported.”
As recently as last week, the FBI warned against a “surge” in hate crimes as infections and deaths continue to mount.
Trump, in typical fashion, initially doubled-down on his rhetoric, defensively telling journalists questioning him about the impact of his language that “it did come from China. It is a very accurate term.”
Two days later, Trump wisely backed off, saying in a Tweet that, “We have to protect our Asian Americans,” adding that the pandemic was “NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form.”
Weeks into the pandemic, Rep. Scott Perry pointlessly deployed similar rhetoric in a tweet in the wake of the House vote approving the coronavirus stimulus package.
“The coronavirus [that] emanated from China is here,” the Pennsylvania Republican said, despite the fact that the virus had long since spread worldwide. “We can’t stop that. We can’t go back.”
That kind of talk doesn’t help. Those at the top, as we all know, set the tone. And Asian-Americans across the nation have felt the sting of hate as a result.
Here in Pennsylvania, Democrats in the state House and Senate stepped up to denounce that cruel bigotry, even as they urged Asian-American residents who think they’ve been targeted because of their ethnicity to report abuse to the Pennsylvania State Police.
“It truly saddens me to hear that the Asian American community has been the target of such painful attacks. I would like to urge members of the Asian American community and people of the commonwealth to report these crimes so they can be addressed,” state Rep. Patty Kim, an Asian-American Democrat from the capital city of Harrisburg, said in a statement. “ … Even though we need to keep a safe distance from each other, it’s incredibly important that we stand with the community and show our support.”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Dan Frankel and state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, both Pittsburgh Democrats whose districts include the Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, said they want to make it clear to Pennsylvania’s Asian community that “we have your back.”
“We are hearing, both locally and as part of a nationwide problem, that our Asian American communities are being attacked and maligned as somehow responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frankel said. “While ridiculous on its face, this line of thinking is dangerous, and we unfortunately know very well in my district what can happen when a community is made to be a scapegoat for society’s problems. We are here today to say to the Asian communities throughout Pennsylvania: ‘We are taking this seriously, and we have your back.’”
Last year, on the anniversary of the Tree of Life shootings, Frankel stood on the dais of the state House to call on his colleagues to help fight hate in the commonwealth. House and Senate Democrats later rolled out a package of hate-crimes legislation.
At the time, Frankel, who is Jewish, was realistic about the challenge facing him and his colleagues: “We know that this has to be bipartisan. I am optimistic, but I am also realistic.”
So here we are again, facing an implacable enemy that, unlike the human beings it is killing, is utterly non-discriminating. Its victims are young and old; American and foreign; male and female. Unlike us, it is blind to bias.
And it won’t be stopped unless all of us – men, women, white, black, Asian, old, young – come together to make it stop.
At this time of great need, scapegoating wastes both time and lives. So let’s do as Frankel recommended, and just look at each other and say, out loud:
“I have your back.”
Copyright 2020 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.