The Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2020
The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China
“I can’t breathe!”
-- George Floyd
“The scenes (the U.S. Capitol building violence) we have seen are the result of lies and more lies, of division and contempt for democracy, of hatred and rabble-rousing -- even from the very highest levels.”
-- German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the world, posing a major threat to human security. The virus respects no borders, nor does the epidemic distinguish between races. To defeat the epidemic requires mutual help, solidarity and cooperation among all countries. However, the United States, which has always considered itself an exception and superior, saw its own epidemic situation go out of control, accompanied by political disorder, inter-ethnic conflicts, and social division. It further added to the human rights violations in the country, the so-called “city upon a hill” and “beacon of democracy.”
-- The epidemic went out of control and turned into a human tragedy due to the government’s reckless response. By the end of February 2021, the United States, home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population, accounted for more than a quarter of the world’s confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly one-fifth of the global deaths from the disease. More than 500,000 Americans lost their lives due to the virus.
-- Disorder in American democratic institutions led to political chaos, further tearing the fabric of society apart. Money-tainted politics distorted and suppressed public opinion, turning elections into a “one-man show” of the wealthy class and people’s confidence in the American democratic system dropped to the lowest level in 20 years. Amid increasing political polarization, hate politics evolved into a national plague, and the Capitol was stormed in post-election riots.
-- Ethnic minority groups suffered systematic racial discrimination and were in a difficult situation. People of color made up about one-third of all minors under the age of 18 in the United States but two-thirds of all of the country’s imprisoned minors. African Americans are three times as likely as whites to be infected with the coronavirus, twice as likely to die from COVID-19, and three times as likely to be killed by the police. One in four young Asian Americans has been the target of racial bullying.
-- Gun trade and shooting incidents hit a record high, and people’s confidence in social order waned. Americans bought 23 million guns in 2020 against the background of an out-of-control epidemic, accompanied by racial justice protests and election-related conflicts, a surge of 64 percent compared with 2019. First-time gun buyers exceeded 8 million. More than 41,500 people were killed in shooting incidents across the United States in the year, an average of more than 110 a day, and there were 592 mass shootings nationwide, an average of more than 1.6 a day.
-- George Floyd, an African American, died after being brutally kneeled on his neck by a white police officer, sparking a national outcry. Widespread protests for racial justice erupted in 50 states. The U.S. government suppressed demonstrators by force, and more than 10,000 people were arrested. A large number of journalists were attacked and arrested for no reason.
-- The gap between the rich and the poor widened, with the people at the bottom of society living in misery. The epidemic led to mass unemployment. Tens of millions of people lost health insurance coverage. One in six Americans and one in four American children were at risk of hunger. Vulnerable groups became the biggest victims of the government’s reckless response to the epidemic.
The U.S. government, instead of introspecting on its own terrible human rights record, kept making irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in other countries, exposing its double standards and hypocrisy on human rights. Standing at a new crossroads, mankind is faced with new, grave challenges. It is hoped that the U.S. side will show humility and compassion for the suffering of its own people, drop hypocrisy, bullying, “Big Stick” and double standards, and work with the international community to build a community with a shared future for humanity.
I. Incompetent Pandemic Containment Leads to Tragic Outcome
The United States claimed to be most abundant in medical resources and healthcare capacity, yet its response to the COVID-19 pandemic was chaotic, causing it to lead the world in the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
Incompetent pandemic response led to dire consequences. A tally by Johns Hopkins University showed that as of the end of February 2021, the United States has registered more than 28 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with related deaths exceeding 500,000. With a population of less than 5 percent of the world’s total, the United States accounted for more than 25 percent of all the confirmed cases and nearly 20 percent of the deaths. On Dec. 20, 2020, CNN reported that the state of California alone had reported 1.845 million COVID-19 cases and 22,599 deaths, which translates to roughly 4,669 known cases and 57 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Even these numbers don’t give the whole picture of the state, because many cases, including mild or asymptomatic infections, had not been diagnosed. Had the American authorities taken science-based measures to contain the pandemic, this could have been avoided. But since they had not, the pandemic, as epidemiologist and former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) William Foege had put it, is “a slaughter” to the United States.
National leaders ignored warnings from experts and downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic. According to the timeline of COVID-19 pandemic in the United States released by media outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Trump administration had repeatedly ignored alarms regarding the risks of the pandemic. In early January 2020, a National Security Council office had already received intelligence reports predicting the spread of the virus to the United States. In a Jan. 29, 2020 memo, then White House trade adviser Peter Navarro projected that a coronavirus pandemic might lead to as many as half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses. A number of health officials, including then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and medical experts also warned of the possibility of a pandemic in the United States. None of the aforementioned warnings brought the imminent pandemic to the Trump administration’s attention. Instead, the administration focused on controlling the message, and released misleading signals to the public by claiming “the risk of the virus to most Americans was very low,” suggesting that the coronavirus is no worse than the common flu, and stating the virus will “miraculously go away” when the weather gets warmer. Thus, the country lost crucial weeks for pandemic prevention and control. An article published on the website of The New York Times on April 13, 2020 commented that, then American leader’s “preference for following his gut rather than the data cost time, and perhaps lives.”
Government inaction led to uncontrolled pandemic spread. “There’s no need for that many to have died. We chose, as a country, to take our foot off the gas pedal. We chose to, and that's the tragedy.” So commented David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, after the pandemic death toll hit 300,000 in the United States. Disease modelers with the Columbia University also estimated that, if the United States had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, 2020, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, about 83 percent of the nation’s pandemic-related deaths would have been avoided. An editorial from the website of medical journal The Lancet, published on May 17, 2020, commented that the U.S. government was obsessed with magic bullets -- vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. At the same time, it noted that only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like testing, tracing, and isolation, would see the emergency brought to an end. Even when the pandemic is spreading in a vast area in the United States, the administration was hasty to restart the economy due to political concerns. According to news website Vox on Aug. 11, 2020, in April and May last year, several states rushed to reopen and caused the virus to shift to the South, West and eventually the rest of the United States. In addition, despite that experts had recommended people wear masks in public, the then American leader and some state officials had been extremely reluctant to issue any decree to make wearing masks mandatory.
Chaotic pandemic control and prevention measures caused confusion among the public. An article published by CNN on May 9, 2020 called the U.S. response to the pandemic “consistently inconsistent,” and noted that there were no national guidelines and no organized efforts to reopen the country beyond what measures states had taken. The article also said that in terms of pandemic control and prevention, public health officials say one thing while governors say another and the national leader says something else entirely. In addition, after the experts called for federal leadership, the then American leader left it to cities and states to solve national problems with testing and hospital supplies by themselves. When the federal government released a phased plan for reopening, the leader called on states to reopen faster. After the CDC recommended that people wear masks in public, the leader refused to do so for months. Even more ridiculously, the leader at one point advocated injecting bleach as a treatment.
National leaders shirked their responsibility out of arrogance. Despite one ludicrous idea after another, the then American leader refused to admit any fault. Instead, the leader invented all sorts of excuses to gloss over his mistakes while shirking from responsibilities. For one, the then leader insisted that the U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 cases because it tested more than any other country in the world. When asked about testing problems and rising deaths, the leader claimed he “doesn’t take responsibility at all.” However, White House adviser and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci admitted that the numbers didn’t lie and the United States had the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world.
Senior citizens fell victims to the government’s incompetent response to COVID-19. Senior citizens are a group more susceptible to the pandemic, yet they have been further marginalized in the U.S. pandemic prevention and control chaos, with their lives becoming valueless and their dignity trampled upon. On March 23 and April 20, 2020, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, told Fox News that he would rather die than see public health measures damage the U.S. economy and there are more important things than living. Furthermore, an Aug. 18, 2020 report published on The San Diego Union-Tribune website found that residents in long-term care facilities account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. population but more than 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths. A May 9, 2020 article from The Washington Post website called the U.S. pandemic control efforts “state-sanctioned killing,” where “the old, factory workers, and black and Hispanic Americans” were deliberately sacrificed.
The poor faced greater threat of infection. Researchers found that the Gini Index, an economic barometer that ranks income inequality from 0 (total equality) to 1 (total inequality), was a strong predictor of COVID-19 deaths. New York State, which had one of the highest Gini Index numbers also had the highest number of fatalities in the nation by a margin. The Guardian website reported on March 21, 2020 that in the wake of the epidemic, it’s the wealthy and powerful first get coronavirus tests, while low-paid workers, most of whom have no paid sick leave and can’t do their work from home, put themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus in order to earn a living. Public health officials said, in Los Angeles County, residents of low-income communities are three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those in wealthier neighborhoods, according to a report published on the Los Angeles Times website on May 8, 2020. A Gallup survey revealed that one in seven American adults said that if they or their family members developed symptoms related to COVID-19, they would probably give up medical treatment because they were worried that they could not afford the costs. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, also pointed out that the poor in the United States were being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-income and poor people face far higher risks from the coronavirus due to chronic neglect and discrimination, and a muddled, corporate-driven federal response has failed them, he observed.
The handicapped and the homeless were in dire straits. A study released in November 2020 by the nonprofit FAIR Health found that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die of COVID-19, compared to the general population. The website of the Los Angeles Times reported on May 14, 2020 that with the coronavirus-induced shock to the economy crippling businesses of all sizes and leaving millions of Americans out of work, homelessness in the United States could grow as much as 45 percent in a year. Many of the homeless Americans are elderly or disabled people. Given their originally poor physical health and bad living and hygienic conditions, they are susceptible to the virus. During the pandemic, the homeless were evicted and pushed into makeshift shelters. The website of Reuters reported on April 23, 2020 that the crowded shelters across the United States made it impossible for the homeless who lived there to maintain social distance, which made it easier for the virus to spread. The New York Times website reported on April 13, 2020 that in the New York City, a crisis has taken hold in homeless shelters, as more than 17,000 men and women are sleeping in group or “congregate” shelters for single adults, with beds close enough for people sleeping in them to hold hands. The Boston Globe website reported on May 4, 2020 that, about one-third of the homeless people who were tested have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Outbreak in jails threatened lives of inmates. ABC News reported on Dec. 19, 2020 that at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, of whom more than 1,700 have died, and nearly every prison system in the country has seen infection rates significantly higher than the communities around them. One of every five prisoners in facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons has had coronavirus, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system. They also found that 24 state prison systems have had even higher infection rates. Half of the prisoners in Kansas have been infected with COVID-19 — eight times the rate of cases among the state’s overall population. In Arkansas, four of every seven have had the virus.
Out-of-control pandemic brought Americans psychological pressure. The Trump administration’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Americans more than the virus itself, which has left people stressed and isolated. In a study published by the CDC on Aug. 14, 2020, due to stay-at-home orders, 40.9 percent of adults reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, 30.9 percent reported either anxiety or depression and those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The same CDC study showed that 13 percent of people surveyed by the CDC during the same time said that they started or increased their substance use and 11 percent seriously considered suicide. A separate study released in June 2020 showed calls to suicide hotlines went up 47 percent nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic with some crisis lines experiencing a 300-percent increase.