Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers call on community, colleagues to denounce hate, bigotry during coronavirus pandemic

Democratic state lawmakers say hate and bigotry are on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic and they’re asking Coloradans to join them in condemning it.

“Tragically, some have used this pandemic as a cover and an excuse for abhorrent behavior,” lawmakers wrote in a letter released Thursday. “Hate crimes against Asian Americans, conspiracy theories denigrating immigrants, statements that compare actions taken by the state’s first Jewish governor to the Gestapo — none of these are acceptable, none of it is Coloradan, and none of it will get us through this crisis any safer or any faster.”

On a call with reporters Thursday, lawmakers shared stories of Asian Americans being verbally assaulted in parking lots, black men wearing face coverings being followed around in grocery stores, and Colorado’s stay-at-home order being compared to the Gestapo. The lawmakers are asking Democrats, Republicans and community members to sign onto the letter.

The group Stop AAPI Hate received 1,135 reports of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from across the country in its first two weeks, according to the reporting center. Groups launched the initiative to track incidents of hate against Asian Americans after hearing about racial profiling and other incidents stemming from people associating them with the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump and others have referred to the virus as the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” saying the terms are accurate because of where the virus originated. But Asian Americans have said the rhetoric is leading to an increase in racist incidents. The FBI also has warned of a possible surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said she’s seeing Asian Americans being blamed for the virus and that they and immigrant communities are isolating themselves even more because of that hate.

“What I’m seeing is a high sense of fear,” she said “And the fear demonstrates itself by staying on the margins of society and staying in the shadows.”

That hate has been targeted at other groups as well, Colorado lawmakers said.

“What we’re seeing is an insidious level of hate,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, on Thursday. “This level of hate is not new. We’ve seen these types of levels of hate in our society and in our history and if we don’t remember those levels of hate, we are doomed to repeat them.”

Rep. Leslie Herod, chair of the Black Caucus, also spoke about the discrimination she’s heard about from black constituents, including how even though face coverings are now deemed necessary, not everyone feels safe wearing them or, finds they’re not treated the same way while wearing them.

“For so long, black people, specifically black men, have been told not to wear a scarf or a bandanna, not to pull your hoodie up when you’re out in public for fear of being killed,” Herod, D-Denver, said.

Herod called on people to monitor social media and report hate, because, as Michaelson Jenet said, “the big problem is the insidious underground language.”

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