San Antonio Condemns “Chinese Virus” as “Hateful Speech,” Encourages Reporting “to the Proper Authorities or Investigation”

A just-enacted San Antonio City Council resolution provides, in relevant part (emphasis added):

WHEREAS, COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial, religious or ethnic one, and the deliberate use of terms such as “Chinese virus” or “Kung Fu virus” to describe COVID-19 only encourages hate crimes and incidents against Asians and further spreads misinformation at a time when communities should be working together to get through this crisis; and

WHEREAS, the Jewish community has been targeted with blame, hate, antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories about their creating, spreading and profiting from COVID-19; and

WHEREAS, to target and stigmatize specific communities for the COVID-19 outbreak and world- wide spread creates an inexcusable risk to all community members; and

WHEREAS, it is critical that the City of San Antonio take leadership and stand in solidarity with its Asian and Jewish communities to send a message that discriminatory and hate-motivated behavior or violence will not be tolerated; and

WHEREAS, all persons are encouraged to report any such antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation; and

WHEREAS, the City of San Antonio wishes to affirm its commitment to the well-being and safety of its Asian and Jewish community members and ensure they know they are not alone and that the City of San Antonio is committed to ending the spread of all forms of hate and bigotry;

SECTION 1. The City of San Antonio denounces antisemitism, anti-Asian bigotry, and all hateful speech, violent action and the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19 that casts blame, promotes racism or discrimination or harms the City of San Antonio Asian and Pacific Islander, Jewish, immigrant or other communities.

SECTION 2. The City of San Antonio joins cities, counties and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of all community members, including the Asian and Jewish communities, and in combatting hate crimes targeting Asians, Jews and Pacific Islanders.

SECTION 3. The City of San Antonio will continue its efforts to protect residents and targets and victims of hate, and to prosecute and curb hate acts related to COVID-19 in partnership with nonprofit organizations, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, the San Antonio Police Department and other law enforcement partners….

This seems not just to encourage “report[ing]” violence “to the proper authorities” for “investigation,” but also reporting other “hate-motivated behavior”—”all forms of hate and bigotry”—including “deliberate use of terms such as ‘Chinese virus'” and “stigmatiz[ing] specific communities.”

I don’t use the phrase “Chinese virus” because it’s being used as an attempt at political spin, and I prefer my disease names to be more objective and less political. (“Kung Fu virus” strikes me as just silly; “Kung Flu” is at least a pun, though again one that’s chiefly used as political spin.)

But “Chinese virus” or the less precise “Chinese flu” seem to me to be quite legitimate political spin—trying to blame China (the political entity) for its role in the spread of the virus—and of course fully protected speech. “Sinophobia” in the sense of fear of Chinese people is irrational, but “Sinophobia” in the sense of fear or dislike of the People’s Republic of China is quite sound, though, like all fear or dislike, needs to be treated sensibly.

Blame placed on Jews or Asian-Americans or others for the epidemic is nonsense. Blame placed on China for various of its actions is not nonsense (see, e.g., this), though of course there is a great deal of uncertainty about exactly how much fault China bears here.

And while of course criminal attacks on Asians (or my own group, Jews, or any other group) are bad, that a tiny fraction of the public might react badly as a result of the label “China virus” doesn’t strike me as a reason to avoid the speech. Compare, for instance, Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993), the Supreme Court’s leading “hate crimes” case, which upheld Todd Mitchell’s enhanced sentence based on Mitchell’s having chosen his target based on the target’s race:

On the evening of October 7, 1989, a group of young black men and boys, including Mitchell, gathered at an apartment complex in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Several members of the group discussed a scene from the motion picture “Mississippi Burning,” in which a white man beat a young black boy who was praying.

The group moved outside and Mitchell asked them: “‘Do you all feel hyped up to move on some white people?'” Shortly thereafter, a young white boy approached the group on the opposite side of the street where they were standing. As the boy walked by, Mitchell said: “‘You all want to fuck somebody up? There goes a white boy; go get him.'” Mitchell counted to three and pointed in the boy’s direction. The group ran toward the boy, beat him severely, and stole his tennis shoes. The boy was rendered unconscious and remained in a coma for four days.

The blame was rightly placed on Mitchell, not on “Mississippi Burning”; likewise for talk of the “Chinese virus,” or for harsh criticisms of police officers that lead a tiny fraction of the public to react by attacking police officers (or violently resisting them during police stops).

Here’s the full resolution (minus some procedural details at the end):

WHEREAS, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, more than 3,222,107 cases and more than 228,756 deaths have been confirmed worldwide as of April 30, 2020, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,005,147 cases and 57,505 deaths have been reported in the United States as of April 30, 2020; and

WHEREAS, COVID-19 will not be stopped by political boundaries and was not created or caused by any race, nationality or ethnicity, and the World Health Organization has cautioned against using geographic descriptors that can fuel ethnic and racial discrimination; and

WHEREAS, COVID-19 has infected people from all racial, national and ethnic backgrounds; and

WHEREAS, the City of San Antonio is fully committed to the safety, security, and equal treatment of its residents as it confronts the COVID-19 pandemic; and

WHEREAS, each individual has the ability to promote inclusiveness, celebrate diversity, support all fellow community members, prevent the spread of misinformation, and reject hate and bias in all forms; and

WHEREAS, hate crimes, discrimination and aggression against Asians and Jews are on the rise throughout the country as these groups are being blamed for the COVID-19 outbreak and spread; and

WHEREAS, as our history has shown, times of great fear, uncertainty and unrest can lead to the demonization, blaming, and scapegoating of groups as the “other;” and

WHEREAS, extremists are taking advantage of COVID-19 to spread their hateful ideologies, including antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, and Sinophobia; and

WHEREAS, amid the growing spread of COVID-19, there are surging reports of bias-motivated incidents targeting members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community in the U.S.; and

WHEREAS, COVID-19 is a public health issue, not a racial, religious or ethnic one, and the deliberate use of terms such as “Chinese virus” or “Kung Fu virus” to describe COVID-19 only encourages hate crimes and incidents against Asians and further spreads misinformation at a time when communities should be working together to get through this crisis; and

WHEREAS, the Jewish community has been targeted with blame, hate, antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories about their creating, spreading and profiting from COVID-19; and

WHEREAS, to target and stigmatize specific communities for the COVID-19 outbreak and world- wide spread creates an inexcusable risk to all community members; and

WHEREAS, it is critical that the City of San Antonio take leadership and stand in solidarity with its Asian and Jewish communities to send a message that discriminatory and hate-motivated behavior or violence will not be tolerated; and

WHEREAS, all persons are encouraged to report any such antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation; and

WHEREAS, the City of San Antonio wishes to affirm its commitment to the well-being and safety of its Asian and Jewish community members and ensure they know they are not alone and that the City of San Antonio is committed to ending the spread of all forms of hate and bigotry; NOW THEREFORE,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SAN ANTONIO:

SECTION 1. The City of San Antonio denounces antisemitism, anti-Asian bigotry, and all hateful speech, violent action and the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19 that casts blame, promotes racism or discrimination or harms the City of San Antonio Asian and Pacific Islander, Jewish, immigrant or other communities.

SECTION 2. The City of San Antonio joins cities, counties and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of all community members, including the Asian and Jewish communities, and in combatting hate crimes targeting Asians, Jews and Pacific Islanders.

SECTION 3. The City of San Antonio will continue its efforts to protect residents and targets and victims of hate, and to prosecute and curb hate acts related to COVID-19 in partnership with nonprofit organizations, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, the San Antonio Police Department and other law enforcement partners.

SECTION 4. The City of San Antonio pledges to support the inalienable rights of all people in our community, who should be treated with respect and must remain safe during this pandemic. We call upon all our residents to treat each other with respect.

SECTION 5. The City of San Antonio urges residents to join us in calling attention to these harms and denouncing hate to help keep us all safe during this unprecedented pandemic and beyond….

 

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