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Xenophobia - Especially Against Asians - Becomes A Pandemic Of Its Own

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Federal officials in Oregon are denouncing hate crimes and discrimination sparked by xenophobia. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, much has followed the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.  

In a release, officials with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office say they’ll prosecute racially-charged crimes against Asian-Americans and other minorities to the “fullest extent of the law.” They urged Oregonians to reject terms like “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan Virus”, which the president himself has used at times.

“Calling a virus as if it belongs to any single country when clearly we’re experiencing a global pandemic is just irresponsible,” says Eugene resident Caitlin Howe.  She says an Asian friend in town was recently harassed and spat on recently, by a couple who blamed him for the pandemic.

Credit U.S. Food and Drug Administration / Flickr.com
FDA Commissioned Corps officer RADM Estella Jones, DVM, OCET Deputy Director and Co-Chair of the FDA Animal Welfare Council, oversees Commissioned Corps officers as they practice proper fitting of protective items.

“In a situation like that, there’s not much you can do because you don’t want to escalate it," Howe tells KLCC. "So he just made the choice to keep on walking and of course, talk to friends about it.”

An organization called the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council began tracking reports of hate crimes and prejudice in late March.  In one month's time, they logged 1,500 reportsof shunning, assault, and verbal harassment against Asian-Americans tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amy Herzfeld-Copple is deputy director of programs with the Western States Center, a progressive non-profit. She says much of this rhetoric is being pushed by many white nationalist and right-wing extremist groups.

“In a time of great fear and uncertainty, the risk to vulnerable communities and the threat to democratic governance really intensifies.”

Herzeld-Copple and Howe say it’s important to challenge racist actions or language as it emerges, especially at a time when unity is more important than ever.

Credit Rep. Casey Weinstein / Ohio State Legislature/Twitter
Ohio State Legislature/Twitter
In an April 18, 2020 photo shared by Ohio Representative Casey Weinstein, two men at a Columbus rally against stay-at-home measures wear hoodies for a neo-Nazi band. Another holds an anti-Semitic sign.

“We’re also seeing efforts –domestically and internationally – to link Jewish communities to COVID-19 through baseless conspiracy theories,” adds Herzeld-Copple.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has a COVID-19 Civil Rights coordinator as of March. They will investigate alleged civil rights violations within Oregon.  People witnessing hate crimes and prejudice are encouraged to contact law enforcement.

Authorities say if you or someone you know are in immediate danger, to call 911. If you believe you’ve been the target or victim of a hate crime or other violation of your civil rights, contact the FBI Portland Field Office by calling (503) 224-4181 or submitting a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.

The Asian Pacific & Policy Council also has a reporting website herefor people who've been targeted for assault, harassment, shunning, or similar actions.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.