‘A torrent of hate’: Pa.’s Asian-American community endures COVID-19 backlash | Friday Morning Coffee

April 3, 2020 7:24 am

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, speaks at a joint session to honor the Tree of Life victims. (Courtesy Pa. House Democrats)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If there’s one sad truth about every tragedy, it’s that people will look around for someone to blame. Sometimes, that blame is justified, when bureaucratic or official breakdowns lead to a catastrophe that could have been averted. Just as often, though, the finger of blame gets pointed at someone who bears no responsibility, or gets scapegoated because they just happen to share the same ethnic, racial or religious background as the person, or persons, behind a tragedy.

In 2001, American Muslims found themselves singled out for abuse in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Two decades into the Forever War on Terror, they’re still the subject of groundless hatred. American Jews have felt it, most recently and horribly, in the Tree of Life killings in Pittsburgh in 2018. Black Americans have endured that hatred for generations.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian-Americans, who have similarly endured bigotry and racism throughout our nation’s history, have found themselves the targets of fresh abuse by those — including President Donald Trump — who continue to incorrectly call a global pandemic a “Chinese virus.”

“There are those who still believe that Asian Americans don’t face discrimination or racism in this country. The outbreak of COVID-19 reminds us that that is a false assumption,” Marian Lien, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, said in a statement released by state House Democrats on Thursday. “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. Hundreds of people have come forward, but we know hundreds more go unreported.”

President Donald Trump (Capital-Star file)

As recently as last week, the FBI warned against a “surge” in hate crimes as infections — and the death toll — nationwide continue to mount.

“The FBI assesses [that] hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities,”  ABC News reported, citing an intelligence report compiled by the FBI’s Houston office and distributed to local law enforcement agencies across the country. “The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”

Read that again. That’s not the posturing of a cynical partisan. That’s the FBI, whose personnel, I can tell you through experience, won’t tell you that it’s Thursday and sunny out if they can possibly avoid it — even if you’re looking right at the calendar and squinting against the glare.

Trump, in his typical fashion, doubled-down on his rhetoric, saying, at a White House briefing under questioning from journalists about the impact of his language, “It did come from China. It is a very accurate term,” ABC News reported.

Two days later, however, Trump 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,” ABC News further reported.

Weeks into the pandemic, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th Districtdeployed similar rhetoric in a tweet, remarking in the wake of the U.S. House’s vote on a relief package: “The coronavirus emanated from China is here. We can’t stop that. We can’t go back. But I’m distressed by the Hobson’s choice that we have.”

(Image via Flickr Commons)

Nonetheless, Asian-Americans across the nation, and in Pennsylvania, have continued to feel the sting of hate.

This week, Democrats in the state House and Senate stepped up to denounce it, and urged Asian Pennsylvanians who think they’ve been targeted because of their ethnicity to report such 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, a Dauphin County Democrat, who is Asian-American, said in a statement. “Reporting would allow us to direct resources, education and better understand what’s going on before the situation gets worse. 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.”

State Rep. Dan Frankel and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, 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. Days later, House and Senate Democrats 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 a 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 is stupid and destructive. It wastes time, it wastes lives. So let’s do something else instead, let’s do as Frankel recommended, and just look at each other and say, out loud:
“I have your back.”

(Image: Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association joint campaign)

Our Stuff.
Employees at Twinbrook an Erie senior care facility, say they’re short on staff and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have accused management of being indifferent to their needs, Erie Correspondent Hannah McDonald reports, leading our coverage this morning.

As cases grow, human service workers say they can’t use COVID-19 leave offered to other state employeesStephen Caruso reports.

Officials at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources want people to take care of themselves — and nature — when they’re out on the trail in state parks and forests, Associate Editor Cassie Miller reports. And Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, a pediatrician by training, had some advice during her daily briefing Thursday for parents who find themselves housebound with their childrenMiller also writes.

With state’s finances headed for dark times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state Treasurer Joe Torsella threw the commonwealth a $2 billion line of credit to help ride it out.

President Donald Trump reluctantly invoked an obscure wartime power. Here’s what that means, Washington Correspondent Dan Vock reports.

As Congress prepares for the next round of coronavirus relief, Democrats on Capitol Hill are signaling their priorities, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Allison Stevens reports.

Philadelphia Correspondent Nick Field caught up with state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler as she delivered food to needy seniors in her district.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular John A. Tures urges you to support your local newspaper — they need it badly right now. Y en español: 7 estrategias basadas en la ciencia para afrontar la ansiedad del coronavirus.

En la Estrella-Capital: Los residentes y restaurantes del condado de Erie se asocian en Facebook durante los cierres por el coronavirus, por Hannah McDonald. Y el juez federal en Harrisburg emitió un fallo que ICE debe liberar a las personas en alto riesgo del COVID-19, por Cassie Miller.

The Centers for Disease Control are expected to recommend that all Americans wear masks when they venture out in public, the Inquirer reports.
A team at the University of Pittsburgh is making possible progress on a COVID-19 vaccine, the Post-Gazette reports.
So if there’s an upside to quarantine? The Pennsylvania State Police say crime plummeted across the state in the second half of March, PennLive reports.
The Lehigh Valley and Monroe County have seen the highest, per-capita infection rate across the state, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Pennsylvania received less than half of the emergency supplies it requested from the federal government, WHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post looks at the state’s efforts to secure additional ventilators.
The COVID-19 quarantine has made it harder for people to obtain addiction reports.
The states’ request for assistance provides the biggest leverage for another COVID-19 stimulus package, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said. Roll Call has the story.

What Goes On.
Time TBD:
 Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Johnna Pro, in the western Pa. office of the Department of Community and Economic DevelopmentWesley Robinson in the office of state Sen Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, and Claudia Vargas, lately of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who’s about to embark on a new adventure at NBCPhiladelphia and Telemundo as an investigative reporter. So double-congratulations to Claudia and best wishes all around. Enjoy the day as you can, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
It’s Friday — we’re pretty sure. So here’s a banger from Calvin Harris that’s perfect for a Friday. It’s the Hardwell remix of “Outside.”

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.