‘A virus of hate:’ Pennsylvanians of Asian descent urged to report if they are targets of hate over COVID-19

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Marian Lien didn’t encounter the coronavirus while she was shopping at the food market last week.

She did, however, encounter hate simply because she is of Asian descent.

“I was told I should go and shop with my own kind, that I should take the virus and be shipped back to China,” Lien said Thursday.

Lien, president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, recounted her experience during a telephone conference sponsored by four Democratic state legislators, Senators Jay Costa and Larry Farnese and Representatives Dan Frankel and Ed Gainey, who are promoting legislation to beef up the state’s ability to battle hate crimes.

Although state police say they haven’t received reports of Asians being targeted, Lien said her encounter is just one case of the abuse, some verbal and some violent, being experienced by Asian-Americans because of a baseless belief that all Asians are somehow collectively responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been physically intimidated, spat upon,” she said. “We have been told we don’t belong.”

“We are hearing…that members of our Asian-American community are being attacked and maligned…Anecdotally, we know this is happening,” Frankel said. “We want them to know that we are taking this seriously and we have your back.”

Coronavirus hate targeting those of Asian descent “is offensive, ignorant and we have to take steps to remind people that this is not what we are as a commonwealth,” Costa said. “We need to nip this type of thing in the bud.”

Farnese said he has received calls from Asian-American constituents who said, “they felt threatened by words that were coming out of our national leadership.” President Trump has come under criticism for statements blaming the Chinese for the COVID-19 plague.

“We need to practice the kind of unity that says, ‘We are Americans’,” Gainey said. “There’s only one enemy we have to fight. And that’s the COVID-19.”

There is no doubt hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans are being underreported, Lien and the legislators said.

Lt. William Slaton, head of the state police Heritage Affairs Section, said his unit has yet to receive any such complaints. He urged anyone targeted for ethnically-motivated abuse to report it by calling 911, or informing local or state police.

His unit has charged people as young as 13 in hate crime cases, Slaton said. “We have no reservations about charging anyone with a hate crime,” he said. “We’re not going to dismiss any allegations.”

Several speakers invoked the example of the October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh as a worse-case scenario of uncurbed ethnically-motivated hate. It was perpetrated by a gunman who had spewed anti-Semitic hate. He killed 11 people and wounded six.

“We definitely don’t want to see anything like that against the Asian community,” Slaton said.

Chad Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said that, unfortunately, hate based on ethnicity is nothing new in the Keystone State, which he said ranks eighth in the nation in terms of hate groups.

“We have a virus of hate,” Lassiter said.

The latest incidents targeting Asian-Americans is another form of that despicable strain, he said.

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