Democratic members of both the Colorado House and Senate released a letter Thursday denouncing hate crimes and hate speech that have emerged across the state during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Our response to this pandemic requires that we follow CDC guidelines, listen to public health experts and practice proper social distancing,” the letter reads. “As we do so, it is imperative that we do not allow another sickness — racial and religious intolerance — to spread unchecked. In these unprecedented times, combating one pernicious disease is difficult enough.”
The letter was organized by the Jewish Caucus and endorsed by the Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ legislative caucuses.
All 60 Democratic members of Colorado’s General Assembly signed their names to the letter.
“We are seeing an unacceptable rise in hate speech in our communities in the wake of this outbreak, and as Colorado’s representatives, it is our obligation to speak up and show that this type of language has no place in our state,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D-Commerce City), chair of the Jewish Caucus. “We are calling on Coloradans to join us in condemning bigotry and anti-Semitism and to work together in our communities to confront this danger.”
The letter emphasizes the importance of community and the value of working together to help quell the number of new cases and deaths due to COVID-19. The letter also thanks medical professionals and other essential workers who have put their health at risk during the pandemic. The bulk of the letter, however, consists of criticizing the “abhorrent behavior” seen in recent weeks.
“These acts of collective support, of selfless sacrifice, and of everyday heroism provide a stark contrast to the examples of hateful and counterproductive behavior we have also seen on display,” the letter reads. “As such, we condemn—in the strongest possible terms—all acts of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, nativism, and antisemitism that have occurred in the wake of this outbreak.”
Asked to comment on the letter, Rev. Amanda Henderson, Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, a human rights group, highlighted the importance of community during the pandemic.
“The Interfaith Alliance shares the elected officials’ call for unity, empathy, and grace during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Henderson said. “This is a physically, emotionally, and spiritually difficult time for everyone and we should display even more kindness for one another, not less. All of us need to stay vigilant against the dehumanization of others that lead to discrimination and hate crimes and use our collective heartbreak into building a more cooperative community that works for everyone.”
A day after releasing the letter Michaelson Jenet published a tweet saying she was being subjected to hate speech similar to what is referenced in the letter.
“If I could show you the amount of hate I have received on this platform for asking people to stand up against bigotry and racism you would be appalled,” Michaelson Jenet tweeted.
Casper Stockham, a Republican running to unseat Ed Perlmutter in Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, questioned the need for a letter admonishing hate.
Far more important to Stockham, who is African-American, is re-starting Colorado’s economy. For him, instances of hate speech are far less frequent than the letter implies.
“I am against all acts of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, nativism, and any of those -isms,” Stockham said. “I am against them and if I see any examples of those happening I will speak out against it. But I rarely see an actual instance of bigotry. What I see is them [Democrats] taking something out of context.”
An April 19 protest at the Colorado Capitol against the state’s stay-at-home made national news when a video of a woman shouting at a healthcare worker “Go to China if you want communism” went viral. The original video, posted on Twitter, has been viewed over 22 million times.
Colorado’s House Republican Leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) referred to stay-at-home orders as leading to a “Gestapo-like mentality” on March 25. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is the state’s first Jewish governor and became emotional during a press conference when told that his stay-at-home order had been compared to Nazism.
Stockham maintained that Neville’s comments referred not to Polis’s stay-at-home order but rather to the Tri-County Health Department’s stay-at-home order. While Neville did sign his name to a letter calling for the Douglas County Commissioners to refuse Tri-County Health’s order, his “Gestapo” comment was pointed at shutdown orders in general. Neville has said he wishes he had used the word “authoritarian,” and he’s accused Polis of using similar language.
The point of the Democrats’ letter is to curb hate-related incidents like these, as well as hate crimes against Asian-Americans and conspiracy theories maligning immigrants.
“We ask that as part of doing your part to combat the spread of COVID19, we all aim to speak up in the face of racism and antisemitism, report hate crimes and bigoted attacks, and embody the positive values we would like to see more of in our state: understanding, compassion, empathy, patience, charity and grace,” the letter states.