By Jessica Meditz
A member of Queens Community Board 5 (CB5) has been removed from the board after using racist language at the last monthly public meeting.
Richard Huber, of Glendale, went on a two-minute-long rant during the Jan. 11 meeting — where he doubted the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, claiming that it alters DNA and that healthy people are dying or becoming ill as a result. Both arguments have been debunked by medical experts.
Amid his declaration, Huber went on to refer to COVID-19 as the “Wu flu,” an improper name for the disease and known racial slur against Chinese people and Asians as a whole.
The unofficial term refers to Wuhan, China, the city in which the virus first appeared, as per the CDC’s reports. However, most of the medical community condemns its use or other forms of it, as it can cause stigma and discrimination against a certain racial group.
The terms are also associated with former president Donald Trump, who came under fire for using labels such as “kung flu” and “Chinese virus” during the height of the pandemic.
“All you ever heard about the so-called vaccine for the Wu flu…it was only safe and effective, and it would prevent transmission and it would prevent you from catching it — yet that seems not exactly to be true,” Huber said at the meeting.
His remarks came as a response to Gary Giordano’s district manager’s report, where he shed light on the recent nurses’ strike, highlighting the shortage of nurses nationwide.
Neither Giordano nor Walter Sanchez, chairman of the meeting, responded to Huber’s statements during the meeting; however, Derek Evers, a board member, condemned the language shortly thereafter.
“Not gonna comment on the unhinged anti-vax rant we just heard, but I would just like to condemn the racist language that was used,” he said. “I don’t think the Community Board is any place for that, so I just want to put that on the record.”
Two days after the meeting, a spokesperson for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards told the Queens Ledger that “The Borough President has removed this individual from Community Board 5 for cause, effective immediately.”
Members of all Community Boards in Queens are required to abide by the centralized Code of Conduct issued by the Borough President, which requires board members to act respectfully and in a non-discriminatory manner.
Back in May of 2021, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, which was co-sponsored by local Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Queens), the first and only Asian American member of Congress from New York State.
The bill denounces all discrimination against Asian Americans and formed a new position in the Justice Department to expedite the investigation of potential COVID-19-related hate crimes. It was penned in response to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes that occurred nationwide, including the killings of six Asian women in the Atlanta area in March of 2021.
Many Democrats, including Meng, feel that the inaccurate language, such as referring to COVID-19 by names with a geographic location attached to it, is part of the reason for the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President [Donald Trump], and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans,” Meng said in a 2020 statement.
“Asian Americans, like millions of others across the nation, are worried about the coronavirus; however, so many Asian Americans are also living in fear following the dramatic increase of threats and attacks against those of Asian descent. During this time of heightened anxiety and fear surrounding COVID-19, we cannot lose sight of protecting the health and safety of every single person – no matter their race, ethnicity, or background.”
Walter Sanchez, who is also the publisher of this newspaper, said he could have handled the situation differently.
“As a facilitator of a Community Board meeting I always want to encourage people to speak, but we are not there to hear political views. I felt if I commented on his speech it might have sparked a debate that would have led the meeting down the wrong path. I do respect every member of the board and have respect for their time commitment. The borough president appoints us for input on local issues affecting our neighborhoods. He has the expectation that we conduct ourselves in a way that reflects the diversity of our borough,” Sanchez said.
“Mr. Huber’s remarks were obviously derogatory towards a certain race and the borough president felt his removal from the board was necessary,” he continued. “His words were quite uncomfortable for me to digest while I was running the meeting. My job was to stop the discussion in its tracks.”
Huber did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Editor’s note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this news organization. His recent remarks were made in his capacity while chairing CB5’s public monthly meeting on Jan. 11.