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In the grip of disaster, we go after the ‘other’

A quiet Princes Street is seen in Edinburgh on March 26, 2020 after the government ordered a lockdown to help stop the spread of COVID-19.ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Re “Hundreds of thousands of Americans may die from the coronavirus. How do we cope with so much death?” (Ideas, April 5): David Scharfenberg omitted a crucial point in his article about how people cope with traumatic disasters such as COVID-19. One horrific way is by finding someone to blame and “punishing” them.

In medieval Europe it was Jews who were blamed for the plague. After Sept. 11, 2001, it was Americans in hijab who were blamed for terrorism. In recent weeks, attacks have soared against people who are or appear to be of Asian ancestry.

Local authorities have influence over our emotional response to the outbreak, as Scharfenberg correctly notes. They should use that influence, frequently and loudly, to condemn this horrible violence against our neighbors. And they should prosecute those responsible.


Kathleen M. Sullivan