The San Antonio City Council unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Mayor Ron Nirenberg condemning hate speech toward Asian, Pacific Islander, and Jewish communities.
“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,” reads the resolution.
At the city council meeting on Thursday when the resolution was introduced, only one member of the public commented on it.
Jack Finger, a local conservative activist who regularly attends city council meetings criticized the resolution for condemning the term “Chinese virus” when the virus originated in China.
“Would I be committing a hate crime if I said that the Asian flu came from Asia? Or that the West Nile virus came from the West Nile area? Would I be discriminating against those folks? Apparently through this resolution you’re saying I would, and you’d want to throw me in jail for that,” said Finger.
He said that in an attempt to “mitigate [his] sentence” he’d offer them a “plea bargain,” and displayed a city document requesting citizens to report violations of San Antonio’s “Stay Home, Work Safe Order.”
Finger then proceeded to pull out a set of binoculars and state that he had seen city council members Roberto Treviño and Manny Pelàez not wearing their facemasks.
He also pulled out a measuring tape, presumably to indicate that the council members had not been maintaining proper social distancing, but his microphone was apparently muted.
“At a time of crisis,” said Nirenberg, “this city has always shown that we stand united, we stand together. And there’s not room for discrimination or hate when we see it. So we shout it out collectively that San Antonians as a community will not tolerate it.”
Pelàez said that the resolution is “the right thing to do at the right time. We have a very long history in the United States, and a tradition sadly, of xenophobia. It’s in our DNA. It’s alive and well, and I believe that it’s more dangerous and more contagious than a virus.”
“Thankfully however, there is a vaccine,” continued Pelàez. “That vaccine is light. That vaccine is drawing moral lines in the sand and saying ‘we will not tolerate this.’”
Pelàez said that since the coronavirus has spread to the United States, there has been an increase in attacks against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders as well as hateful conspiracy theories that the Jewish community is spreading the disease and profiting from it.
“Despite the bad dinner theater that we just had to sit through,” said Pelàez, referring to Finger’s comments, “really what we’re talking about is defending people’s rights to exist in the United States without harassment and indignity.”
Councilman Clayton Perry said that he was hesitant at first glance if the resolution was needed, but said that he would be supporting it after reaching out leaders in the Asian community who asked for his support because there “were a couple of incidents” in San Antonio.
Anecdotal reports from a local media outlet say that there has been an increase in racist remarks targeted toward Asians, including a Chinese-American restaurant owner who was “verbally assaulted with coronavirus-related slurs before being physically attacked toward the end of February.”
A similar resolution has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which was co-sponsored by eight of the 13 Democrats in the Texas delegation.
The House resolution cites a stabbing that took place at a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas, where a man attempted to stab to death an Asian-American family, including two young children, because he thought they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.”
An off-duty border patrol agent and a Sam’s Club employee stepped in to stop the attack.
This is what selfless service looks like. BP Agent Bernie Ramirez reunites w/ Sam’s Club employee Zach Owen days after both intervened during a stabbing incident inside Sam’s in Midland, Tx. Owens’s hand was cut and he was stabbed in the leg too. #HonorFirst @SamsClub @USBPChief pic.twitter.com/RXSXk735WJ
— Chief Patrol Agent Matthew J. Hudak (@USBPChiefBBT) March 16, 2020
Many Republican leaders, notably President Trump, have continued to call the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” maintaining that there is nothing inherently racist in labeling a virus based on its origin.
Moreover, they argue that referring to the origin will help hold China — and the Chinese Communist Party — responsible for their failures in containing the virus and their deception in covering up its severity.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized the council’s decision, tweeting, “This is NUTS. [The San Antonio] City Council [is] behaving like a lefty college faculty lounge, triggered by Chick-fil-A & the words ‘Wuhan virus.’ If they want to investigate someone, start with [The New York Times and] CNN who both repeatedly (and rightly) referred to it as ‘the Chinese coronavirus.’”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.