COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The ACLU of Ohio is calling for the resignation of State Senator Steve Huffman for comments he made during a hearing on a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis.
Senator Huffman, an emergency room doctor, was questioning witness Angela Dawson, Executive Director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, about why black people have a higher incidence of COVID 19 infection.
“Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups or wear masks or do not socially distance themselves,” Huffman asked.
Rep. Stephanie Howse, President of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC), said the comment is offensive on several levels.
“Could it be that black folks basically are dirty, they don’t know how to wash their hands,” Howse said. “It is insulting. It’s disrespectful. But we have to depend on a Senator Huffman to work to end this system of racism. How we gonna get there?”
“Steve Huffman demonstrated that he is unfit for office and should resign immediately,” said Barbara Sykes, CEO and President of the OLBC Foundation. “His remarks are insensitive, hurtful and set us back in our efforts to address the genuine reasons that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a particularly harsh impact in the Black community.”
Huffman did not return calls for comment but issued the following statement:
“Regrettably, I asked a question in an unintentionally awkward way that was perceived as hurtful and was exactly the opposite of what I meant. I was trying to focus on why COVID-19 affects people of color at a higher rate since we really do not know all the reasons.”
Rep. Howse was unmoved.
“It is not unintentionally,” Howse said. “It is not awkwardly. He said what he said because that’s what he believed. That’s how this thing, implicit bias, works. You’re just doing it. You just do it.”
“Mr. Huffman is a doctor and one would expect more empathy and insight, but unfortunately he revealed his true character with his remarks,” Sykes said. “Black people and minorities are suffering and dying at alarming rates from the coronavirus, and we need elected officials who are willing to get to the heart of the matter rather than spout heartless sentiments.”
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director J. Bennett Guess said Huffman’s comments were explicitly racist and issued the following statement:
Steve Huffman must immediately step down from public office, and if he refuses to do so he must be removed from the Ohio State Senate. As a practicing physician of nearly 20 years, he knew precisely what type of harm his ignorant, heinous, and callously hurtful comments would have on communities of color in Ohio. His racist views and sentiments, which no doubt impact and effect his legislative record and priorities, are antithetical to everything the ACLU of Ohio stands for, the work we do, the relationships we hold, and the mission we uphold. There is no reality where he can remain a member of the Ohio General Assembly and make decisions that affect the very communities he undermines and clearly holds such contemptible attitudes. This is what systemic institutionalized racism looks like, and this is how it manifests itself and oppresses the day-to-day lives of People of Color. When willful hatred appears so blatantly and painfully, there is no logical move except to name it and stop it. Until we address white supremacy and white privilege in our public institutions and hold our public officials accountable, we will not have peace.”J. Bennett Guess, ACLU of Ohio Executive Director