Chung: Utah Needs to Create a Task Force to Ensure Asian Americans’ Safety


Legislative meeting at the Utah Capital building in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo by Cassandra Palor | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Stacy Chung


May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month — a month of festive moods and vibrant gatherings to celebrate this community. But ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, anxiety and prohibitions on community gatherings have been at the front of everyone’s minds. The impact of the pandemic has been devastating to all — people have lost their jobs, their loved ones and their lifestyles. We are all suffering together, but this pandemic has lead to additional threats for Asian American communities in particular and Utah has a responsibility to prevent such violence.

COVID-19 Related Racism is on the Rise

Since the news broke months ago that the novel coronavirus was first detected in China, Asian American communities almost immediately began experiencing racial slurs, shunning on public transit and both online and offline harassments associated with the outbreak of COVID-19. In six weeks alone, over 1,700 reports of anti-Asian racist incidents were submitted to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. The FBI anticipated this back in March: “hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities.”

Almost two months have passed since the FBI’s assessment, yet little had been done by the federal government to ensure the safety of the Asian American communities. Rather, White House officials continue to use inflammatory racist language by referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and suggesting that the Chinese government sent travelers to the United States to spread the virus. In March, an assailant reportedly tried to kill an Asian family at a Texas Sam’s Club because “he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.”

Such rampant ignorance and repeated use of harmful rhetoric about COVID-19 from public officials contributes to the spread of misinformation, xenophobia and anti-Asian hate crimes. American citizens should be protected from such violence. We need to take action to ensure safety in our communities.

Utah is No Exception

Some might think that Utahns will be exempt from this trend but in reality, Utah is no exception to racist threats and discrimination. In March, our own Utah legislator and Congressional candidate Rep. Kim Coleman was accused of racism for blaming COVID-19 on “Chinese communists.” Her blog post clearly reflects Trump’s “Chinese virus” rhetoric, “Let’s be clear: the coronavirus plague facing us comes exclusively as a courtesy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). No Communist China, no crisis.” Coleman’s post is exacerbating erroneous perceptions about China and implicitly contributing to anti-Asian sentiment. This issue is bigger than partisan politics. The use of such aggressive rhetoric by President Trump and Rep. Coleman poses a danger to the safety of the Asian American community.

Besides the racist commentary of government officials, do not forget that Utah experienced a horrific, racially-motivated hate crime just over a year ago, when Jose and Luis Lopez’s were reportedly attacked by a man outside a tire shop yelling, “I hate Mexicans.” The father and the son were beaten with a pole to the point where Luis’ cheekbone and eye socket were shattered and a his sinus collapsed. The Lopez family attributed some of the motive behind the attack to Trump’s use of racial generalizations and slurs about immigrants coming from Mexico.

These incidents in Texas and Utah bear striking resemblances. The assailants’ use of slurs reflect government officials’ labeling of specific ethnic groups and the physical attacks were fueled by racist and misinformed views of these communities.

In 2017, a Utah man was indicted for shouting racial slurs at his African American neighbor and then striking him with a “stun cane.” After the man was found guilty of a federal hate crime, U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said, “There is no place in Utah for race-motivated hatred and violence.” His message remains true today.

Utah Can and Should Do Its Part

Despite living in one of the safest states in the country, there is no guarantee that minorities will be safe in Utah. The division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Utah made an announcement entitled “No Time for Hate: COVID-19” to address “concerns of discrimination and bias related to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.” Even college students are playing a part in the fight against COVID-19 fueled verbal, written and physical violence.

We need government intervention and proactive enforcement to secure the safety of Asian American communities. The Utah State Legislature did an excellent job in 2019 when they passed a law to increase criminal penalties for hate crimes. Now is the time to continue this work.

Utah must step up to the plate and do its part to prevent an increase in violence against minority populations. The legislature should establish a task force to study how Utah can combat racial bias fueled by the pandemic. The task force should be designed to offer guidelines for addressing racial profiling, preventing discrimination and dispelling racial stigma. Utah needs state leaders to provide the protection and guidance that the federal government has failed to supply.


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Correction: The headline was changed from “Utah Needs to Create a Task Force to Ensure Minorities’ Safety” to  “Utah Needs to Create a Task Force to Ensure Asian Americans’ Safety.”

Editor’s note: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, tiredness and shortness of breath. These symptoms are believed to occur between two and 14 days after a person is exposed to the disease. If you have these symptoms and have recently come into contact with a person who is known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled to an area with community spread of the disease, you should call your doctor. Areas with community spread of COVID-19 are believed to include China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Seattle. If you do not have a doctor who you visit regularly, please call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 or the University of Utah Health hotline at 801-587-0712. Do not go to a healthcare facility without first making arrangements to do so.