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Ramsey councilor condemned for comparing mask mandate to Japanese internment

She made the comparison in support of her resolution to not use city resources to enforce the state's mask mandate.

A Ramsey City Council member is under fire for comments she made comparing the state's mask mandate to the experiences of Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. 

Chelsee Howell

Chelsee Howell

Chelsee Howell, who was elected to the Ramsey City Council in the 2020 election, made the comparison during the City Council meeting on March 9 when it voted 4-3 to pass a resolution instructing that no city resource be used to enforce the state's mask mandate. 

The Twin Cities chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) issued a statement criticizing her comments, saying she "weaponized the Japanese American incarceration experience for their political purposes." 

The organization said it "strongly" encourages Howell to take "immediate steps to rectify your actions and the harm they may have caused" and it offered to work with her and the Ramsey City Council to deepen their understanding of Japanese American incarceration history and its relevance today.

Howell along with Council member Ryan Heineman proposed the resolution, and during the discussion before the vote, Howell said: 

"On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Out of fear, Americans of Japanese descent were placed in Japanese internment camps on American soil established by Executive Order 9066 of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. 

"Just because something has been made a law or a mandate does not make it moral or just. While it was considered legal at the time, there are moments in the history of our country where the government has acted unlawfully and reprehensibly from a moral and constitutional perspective. 

"According to the 14th Amendment, the State cannot deprive us of life or liberty. The government does not have the right to restrict somebody's ability to breathe. The Executive Council does not have the right to restrict somebody's ability to breathe, specifically 5.6 million Minnesotans. No one has the right to restrict somebody else's ability to breathe. To breathe freely, or not to breathe freely, that is an individual's decision, not a decision of the government."

The Twin Cities JACL said "We absolutely object to the use of our community's experiences in your comparison. You argued that 'the State cannot deprive us of life or liberty' yet, through your actions, you are risking the lives and liberties of your fellow Minnesotans while the State is doing its best to protect us all." 

Nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens, were imprisoned in internment camps in America during World War II

The group added, "Particularly in this time of heightened anti-Asian sentiment and racialized violence, your careless and misinformed comments undermine public health efforts at the disproportionate expense of communities of color."

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, harassment and attacks against Asian Americans have skyrocketed. Stop AAPI Hate reported on Feb. 9 that between March 19, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, it has received more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate, including physical assaults and verbal harassment. 

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President Joe Biden has signed an executive order denouncing anti-Asian discrimination shortly after taking office after his predecessor, President Donald Trump, frequently referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus."

The majority of the residents in Ramsey are white (90%), while about 4% of the city's population identify as Asian, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. 

As for the city's resolution, Mayor Mark Kuzma has vowed to overturn the resolution. While the city has been warned by its attorney and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison that the governor's orders take precedence over measures passed by a lower unit of government. 

Bring Me The News has reached out to Howell for comment. 

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