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Governor Tim Walz has responded to reports of heightened Asian American discrimination in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating a helpline. The goal is to collect information about incidents, investigate them, and protect the civil rights of those being targeted.
Launched on April 6, the helpline is managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Anyone with a complaint can call the toll-free helpline at 1-833-454-0148 or file a report online. The helpline is open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, with translation and interpretation services available.
Organizations that advocate for Asian Americans in Minnesota had already been discussing the best way to collect shareable data on instances of discrimination, said Bo Thao-Urabe, the executive and network director of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.
Representatives of more than two dozen organizations have been convening to determine how to provide community assistance and be proactive in preventing discrimination.
“What’s the right way to support communities? To know what is happening to them is something that should be shared and captured,” said Thao-Urabe. “We didn’t want these stories, incidences to just be anecdotal.”
Not only does support need to be in place for those who experience discrimination, but policies have to offer that same support, she said.
While the Minnesota Human Rights Act protects people against acts of discrimination, it doesn’t necessarily shield them from hate crimes.
Non-profits also have discussed launching their own, community-based hotline, said Sia Her, the executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.
“They are a natural go-to place for members of the community and… if they should encounter experiences of this nature, that is an additional step in the right direction,” she said.
Her said she’s had many conversations with Asian Americans in Minnesota who have experienced discrimination. She recounted the story of one person who, recently, was nearly run off the road by an angry driver.
“I’m very cautious about how I talk about the issue because what I am sensing is a dramatic increase in the anxiety, the concern, and the level of fear on the part of community members,” Her said. “While they are just hearing about it from others and from social media, someday it may very well be them on the receiving end of this kind of behavior.”
Not only will these discussions, and the new helpline, address specific incidents of discrimination, but they also will remind community members that they don’t have to live in fear, she said.
“I believe that this is a movement in the right direction. The governor has repeatedly brought up this issue and has stated that there’s no room in Minnesota for this kind of behavior.”
Reports from the helpline will allow the state to begin collecting data on this growing problem.
“This helpline really reinforces the state’s efforts to protect the civil rights of Minnesotans,” said Taylor Putz, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. “We’ve been around doing this work for more than 50 years.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect a more accurate depiction of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.