WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and 24 of his Senate Democratic colleagues in sounding the alarm about increased harassment and violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In a letter to President Donald Trump, the Senators stressed that America’s leaders have a responsibility to avoid using rhetoric that fuels racism towards Asian Americans, and to prevent confusion about COVID-19 from being exploited to target communities of color.
“It is imperative that we make clear that the enemy in our midst is not the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all,” wrote the Senators. “We must counter the mistaken belief that there is any link between the virus and a person’s ethnicity. Such misconceptions have contributed to a surge of hate crimes against AAPI communities, acting as a pretext for individuals who exploited this crisis as an opportunity to harm people whose racial and ethnic backgrounds differ from their own.”
The letter follows a recent call from a group of leading U.S. national security experts who have demanded heightened attention to the intensification of hate crimes targeting the Asian and Asian American diasporas, particularly as communities of color in the United States are already being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, on March 20, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed concern over the sharp rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans. The CDC, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have also warned against the social stigma that has targeted the Asian American community in the wake of COVID-19.
“History teaches us that injustice and divisions in the United States have been exploited domestically for political purposes and can be exploited by other governments for strategic purposes,” the Senators continued. “Racist rhetoric and hateful attacks against Asians and members of the AAPI community are unjust and utterly inconsistent with our core values. Such incidents also play into the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and messaging in ways that undermine our unity, national interests, and global leadership.”
Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the need to prevent discrimination and harassment towards Asian Americans during this pandemic. He has previously urged the coronavirus taskforce only to distribute accurate information about the virus and dispel misinformation or discriminatory rhetoric to help prevent suspicion, panic and race-based assaults. Additionally, he has requested that the Vice President correct the record on mixed Trump administration messages related to COVID-19, and that the FBI conduct community outreach and engage leaders of Chinese American and Asian American organizations to increase connectivity and dialogue.
In addition to Sens. Warner, Menendez, Schumer, Duckworth and Hirono, the letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
A copy of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear Mr. President:
Recently, a group of U.S. national security leaders signed a letter raising alarm about the surge in anti-Asian racism in the context of COVID-19, and concern that prejudice and stigmatization undermine American values of hope and U.S. leadership abroad.
We, the undersigned Members of the U.S. Senate, echo these concerns.
We, too, are alarmed by the severity and increasing frequency of hate crimes and race-based harassment against Asians and members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the United States—assaults that endanger their safety, well-being, dignity, and livelihoods. U.S. leaders in every sector and at every level — including in both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government — must take action against anti-Asian racism and express support for Asian diaspora and AAPI communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents urgent threats to America’s health, prosperity, and national security. It has brought out the best of our nation: healthcare workers have labored around the clock to care for patients, scientists have raced to develop a vaccine and therapeutics, and local officials and community leaders have taken action to ensure the most vulnerable among us have access to supplies and services.
Alarmingly, the crisis has also spawned numerous disturbing incidents of racism and discrimination in the United States. On March 20, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed concern over the sharp rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans. It is imperative that we make clear that the enemy in our midst is not the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises discussing the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in ways that reduce and avoid stigma, while refraining from using any terms (such as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”) that exacerbate prejudice and discrimination in ways that place lives at risk of violence. We must counter the mistaken belief that there is any link between the virus and a person’s ethnicity. Such misconceptions have contributed to a surge of hate crimes against AAPI communities, acting as a pretext for individuals who exploited this crisis as an opportunity to harm people whose racial and ethnic backgrounds differ from their own.
We represent diverse states and communities, and some of us have also been personally targeted by prejudice. All of us must stand today in solidarity with the Asian and AAPI communities and amplify the many statements of concern that AAPI leaders and community organizations have issued in recent weeks.
We believe that our nation is strongest when we live up to our guiding principles, including the embrace of equality and diversity. Intolerance and stigmatization risk dividing our society and hurting our most vulnerable precisely when we must unite and stand strong to confront the pandemic.
History teaches us that injustice and divisions in the United States have been exploited domestically for political purposes and can be exploited by other governments for strategic purposes. Racist rhetoric and hateful attacks against Asians and members of the AAPI community are unjust and utterly inconsistent with our core values. Such incidents also play into the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and messaging in ways that undermine our unity, national interests, and global leadership.
Once the worst of this global crisis is past, it will be important to re-examine the factors and decisions that facilitated the rapid global diffusion of the outbreak from its origin in China, including the initial failure of the Chinese government to heed the concerns of doctors and its efforts to suppress the warnings of whistleblowers and downplay the danger of the virus. For the time being, however, we must prioritize and concentrate on mobilizing an effective response that overcomes initial missteps, while galvanizing the international collaboration that is critical to constraining this global threat.
U.S. policy to address the pandemic must respect and defend human rights and civil liberties. The novel coronavirus presents a major threat to the health and wellbeing of all people in the United States, but the Asian diaspora and AAPI communities now face harmful rhetoric and even horrifying physical violence. We must prioritize, at this perilous moment, reducing those dangers to the greatest extent possible.
Recognizing the urgency of this crisis and the imperative of combating the prejudices that have intensified in its wake, we pledge to work with you to confront the racism that so many encounter in their daily lives, in online and offline settings, and to tackle systemic prejudice even as we combat this unprecedented pandemic.