'It bothers me to my core': Bellevue PD says COVID-19 is fueling racist threats

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Concerns of racism and attacks on people have been voiced worldwide, as disturbing videos of Asian Americans being attacked by strangers emerge on social media. The attacks stem from panic of COVID-19, and one local police department fears this behavior is happening here in Washington far more than any of us know about.

"It bothers me to my core. It's just wrong, and I’m offended by it," Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett said.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when Chief Mylett began hearing an unsettling narrative.

"Many of our neighbors have been on the receiving end of bigoted comments and threats, blaming them for the presence of the coronavirus in the United States and specifically in Bellevue," he said.

The stories were second-hand, but they were consistent, so Chief Mylett consulted with members of the Asian community.

"Members of my team confirmed that that was occurring, but it wasn't being reported," Mylett said.

And it largely still isn't. Bellevue PD has only gotten one official report. It came from a local restaurant owner who received a call from a stranger, exclaiming he's to blame for COVID-19.  And then he had a chilling message for the restaurant owner.

"He was threatened to be killed, not by COVID-19, but by this individual making the phone call," said Mylett. "The victim in this particular case communicated to us that he felt genuine fear, and that he was going to arm himself, and again, I can’t disagree with his decision, but we don’t want to travel down this path. It’s avoidable."

Like many departments, Bellevue PD is seeing a massive recent increase in firearm applications, a 300% increase to be exact.

Chief Mylett says data from the gun stores show a significant portion of the recent firearm purchases are from people of Asian descent.

"It coincides with the message I'm getting from members of the Asian community here in Bellevue, that they're feeling fear because of the actions of others."

Despite the lack of reports filed with local police departments, racism tied to COVID-19 is happening.

At Jade Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Seattle, the attacks have been rampant.

"It’s honestly unbelievable that this is happening," says Ivy Chan.

Ivy helps out at her family's restaurant here and there while juggling nursing school. She described a recent incident at Jade Garden.

"Someone opened the door and yelled in a racial slur and said we brought it here, it's our fault, we brought it to America. And then walked away. It was shocking."

Ivy's brother, who works at the restaurant regularly, says before the lock-down, people coming in and yelling racial slurs happened at least once a day. It's behavior the Chan family never saw in their 17 years of business until recently.

"It’s on the back of my mind that I have to like almost prove that I’m not carrying the virus," says Ivy.

Chief Mylett says this behavior must end, now.

"These are trying times for everybody. The unknown is the unknown and we don't know where COVID-19 is going but now is the time for us to unite. We don't need to divide. We need each other, and there is no one in this country that's to blame for COVID-19. We have to get past that and we need to support each other."

Bellevue PD is pleading with the community to report any racist behavior so they can help put an end to it.