San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals says he’s both disappointed and frustrated over anti-Chinese graffiti posted on freeway signage in the city at Interstate 92 and De Anza Boulevard.
“I was outraged,” Goethals said.
The mayor has heard anecdotally of about a dozen verbal exchanges and graffiti, but no known violence in his city at this point directed toward Asian-Americans in relation to the pandemic.
Public health agencies including the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) have pegged the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei Province in China. Subsequent phrasing of the outbreak as the “Chinese virus,” including by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who used the term “Wuhan virus”), have been criticized in the U.S. and by Chinese officials as stoking racism and hate crimes.
News agencies across the U.S. have been reporting hate crimes directed at Chinese people. The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) based out of Los Angeles, San Francisco State University and Chinese for Affirmative Action have been tracking reports of alleged hate crimes since the start of the pandemic, tallying 1,135 reports in the first two weeks. The incidents largely involved verbal harassment and shunning. But there have also been reports of physical assaults, being spit on and workplace discrimination, according to the report. The incidents are indicative of “a widespread issue,” Manju Kulkarni, executive director of A3PCON, told KCRA.
San Mateo won’t stand for it, Goethals said.
“There’s a real harm in missing the importance of the moment, in labeling the virus as connected to a particular group or region,” Goethals said. “Not only is this very racist and ignorant, but it is dangerous to us all.”
In cooperation with the city’s public works department, the city aims to swiftly remove of any property defacement. In his day job, Mayor Goethals serves as a deputy district attorney in the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, which he says will hold accountable anyone committing hate crimes, including graffiti that targets and threatens violence toward a specific group.
“This is a moment for all of us to come together in unity and reaffirm our values,” said the mayor, who encouraged residents to report damaged property or graffiti of this nature to local law enforcement.
The CDC has devoted a website page dedicated to reducing the stigma around the novel coronavirus.
“Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people,” according to the CDC, resulting in social avoidance, rejection, denials of healthcare, education or employment and physical violence.
Stigma, the CDC adds, “affects the emotional mental health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient.”
The CDC encouraged all citizens to know the facts about COVID-19 and to share them with others in their community.
Photo: Image of Mayor Goethals in front on the freshly resurfaced highway sign. Photo courtesy of Joe Goethals