Fort Bend County’s new COVID-19 Anti-Hate Resolution denouncing racism-related incidents, antisemitism, bigotry and hate speech targeting the county’s Asian and Jewish communities triggered a flood of social media comments as hundreds of residents voiced praise as well as harsh criticism for the measure. The intensity of the online debate hinted at the community’s deep-rooted political division as opinions remained starkly divided. The measure also drew opposition from two commissioners yet won narrow approval in a 3-2 vote during the July 28 Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting. Among the first to comment on Fort Bend County Judge KP George’s Facebook post announcing the resolution was Linda Howell, chair of the Fort Bend County Republican Party.
“The Democrats at work again. The words racism and hate weren’t a part of 99.9 percent of anyone’s vocabulary in Fort Bend County until they chose to make it that way. Think November 2020,” Howell wrote, drawing a multiple comments from Kristin Kuhn Kibbee and others who supported the resolution.
“I wish racism and hate were not a part of any community, but pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make it so,” Kibbee posted.
In the days leading up to the vote, Judge George denounced hate speech and racism via his official social media accounts, which drew more criticism from a resident posting on Twitter who dismissed Judge George’s anti-racism campaign as attention-seeking political showmanship.
“So, this is your full-time gig now? You’ve gone from Judge Mask to Judge Racism?” @TXGumbo tweeted to Judge George on July 28. “Small businesses in your county are dying. School children are falling behind as cowards and fools close our schools. Ft. Bend needs leadership. And we get Judge Looking for My 15 Minutes of Fame.”
According to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) officials, since January Asian-Americans from across the U.S. increasingly report that they’re being threatened and harassed in public by those who blame China for the coronavirus pandemic. Individuals report they have experienced verbal attacks such as people yelling “Go back to China”, been spat on, felt targeted by racial slurs such as calling COVID-19 the “Kung Flu” and in some cases physically assaulted for “bringing the virus” to the United States. In addition, extremists continue to promote antisemitic and xenophobic COVID-19-related conspiracies online that blame Jews and China for creating, spreading and profiting from the virus, ADL officials said in a report earlier this year.
After an alleged hate crime targeting an Asian family was reported in Midland earlier this year, many Asian-Americans in the greater Houston area felt vulnerable just going to the grocery store or venturing out in the community for fear they would become the target of a hate speech or violence, according to Deborah Chen from OCA Greater Houston, a national civil rights organization that advocates for Asian Pacific Americans, who spoke during Tuesday’s commissioners’ court meeting.
“The Midland incident is where a family was shopping at Sam’s Club and was stabbed and that’s generated a lot of fear among many members of the Asians community,” she said.
Midland Police officials last March reported that 19 year-old Jose Gomez was jailed after he allegedly stabbed three family members, including two children under the age of 10, during a shopping trip to Sam’s Club. Gomez reportedly later told police he stabbed the family because he believed they were infecting people with coronavirus because they were Chinese. Fort Bend County Judge KP George said Asian-Americans in Fort Bend County and others contacted his office to voice similar concerns. As a result, Judge George and other county officials worked with ADL representatives to craft the COVID-19 Anti-Hate Resolution as a way to offer support for the county’s Asian-American and Jewish community members by speaking out to denounce antisemitism and anti-Asian bigotry related to COVID-19. The resolution includes a clause that “encourages” people to report any “antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation’. That portion of the resolution which drew criticism online from Kent Bortz, who argued the resolution limits free speech.
“These sorts of decency laws are a slippery slope. Our history is littered with laws that try to dictate behavior and end up being weaponized and used to control groups of people,” Bortz commented on Facebook. “No matter how ugly, Americans have the right to say what they choose.”
Concerns over free speech laws were also a concern for Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers, who voted against the resolution.
“There are problems with potential first amendment questions. There are problems with potential HIPPA violations,” Meyers said. “But I think most importantly, there are problems with potential violations of state and federal law in relation to how this resolution is worded to establish county policy.”
When contacted for clarification, Fort Bend County Attorney Roy Cordes voiced no concerns the resolution violated state or federal laws or created a legal liability for the county.
“The Fort Bend County Resolution Condemning COVID-19 Hate and Disproportionate Impact is an expression of an opinion by a majority of Commissioners Court and does not have the effect of law. Thus, no enforcement action is warranted or anticipated,” Cordes said via email.
Citing concerns the resolution was “divisive”, Commissioner Vincent Morales also voted to reject the resolution.
“This resolution condemns hate but it creates division. It does not show unity. I could see us coming together supporting a resolution that is not so divisive,” Morales said during discussions prior to the vote.
The two commissioners’ opposition to the measure sparked debate between those who supported their decision and others who viewed it as a political maneuver. Brad Jones was among those who defended Commissioners Meyers and Morales vote by arguing the resolution was a type of “red flag” law that violates the constitution. On the other side of the debate, Chris Michaelis questioned the commissioners’ political motives, posting that the resolution represented a statement of value that wasn’t intended to be enforced as a law.
“I won’t let my elected officials use unfounded pearl-clutching about legalese as a cover for their own lack of decency and complete inability to call out hatred, or worse, as a veil for their own bigotry,” Michaelis commented on Facebook.
Susan Culver also offered up sharp criticism on Facebook for Commissioners Meyers and Morales for opposing the COVID-19 Anti-Hate Resolution.
“Racism still runs rampant in our society and should not be tolerated in any form or fashion. I’m proud to live in Fort Bend County, which is one of the most diverse in our country,” Culver posted on Judge George’s Facebook page. “The two commissioners who voted against this measure also voted against extending the mask order. Do they care about the well being of the citizens they represent? Once again, this tells me no.”
Judge George posted a statement on his Facebook page Thursday pledging his continued support for the resolution.
“Unfortunately, not only are our communities fighting back against the highly contagious and invisible COVID-19 virus, but we are pushing back against an increase of hate, xenophobia, and scare tactics against certain members of our community,” Judge George said in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “These acts have to stop, they are destructive to our community and are not welcomed in Fort Bend County.”
The COVID-19 Anti-Hate Resolution was approved at the commissioners court meeting held Tuesday, July 28.
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