A man in Texas was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to attacking an Asian American family he blamed for COVID in the early days of the pandemic.
Jose Gomez, 21, violently attacked the family of three at a Sam's Club in Midland, Texas, on March 14, 2020, perceiving them as a "threat" because he assumed they were Chinese and "from the country who started spreading that disease around," the Department of Justice said in a statement.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of committing a hate crime in February.
He admitted in his plea that he had followed the dad and his children, ages 6 and 2, around the store. He then grabbed a serrated steak knife on sale, bent the blade so that the sharp part faced outward, and punched the father in the face.
Gomez then got an 8-inch knife from the store and slashed the 6-year-old's face. The blade entered close to his right eye, split his right ear, and cut right around the back of his skull, prosecutors said.
He said in his plea that he wanted to kill the 6-year-old boy and that he attacked a white store employee who was preventing him from doing so.
While he was being held down on the ground by the employee, Gomez yelled at the family to "get out of America."
The incident was one of many racist, unprovoked attacks on Asian people in the past few years. Some of the victims were presumed by their attackers to be of Chinese descent and blamed for causing the COVID pandemic; at the time, then-president Donald Trump frequently referred to the coronavirus as a "China virus," stoking racist and xenophobic fears.
"Pandemic-driven and racially-motivated acts of violence are deplorable crimes, and the Justice Department stands ready to use our hate crimes laws to hold perpetrators accountable," Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division said in the statement announcing Gomez's sentence. "Hate crimes targeting Asian Americans have spiked during the pandemic and must be confronted. All people deserve to feel safe and secure living in their communities, regardless of race, color or national origin."
Official statistics on hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not always accurate; one report found that AAPI people were less comfortable reporting such incidents to the authorities than other races. However, Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks reports of hate and discrimination incidents against AAPI people, found that between March 2020 to December 2021 — the most recent data available — there were more than 10,000 reported hate incidents against AAPI people.