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Community voices support for St. Louis County Health Director after county council meeting

“Debating public health measures is no excuse for racist, xenophobic and demeaning behavior that Dr. Khan faced on Tuesday evening," said Amy Kuo Hammerman

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Leaders in the faith, business and health communities are standing in solidarity with St. Louis County’s Acting Health Director after a heated county council meeting this week in which he says he endured “racist” and “threatening” behavior.

“We appreciate the guidance of St. Louis County Public Health and the expertise of Dr. Khan and feel it is unconscionable that there are people, including elected officials, trying to discredit him and racially harass him in the middle of a pandemic for doing his job,” said Kate Woolverton, at the press conference on behalf of Niche Food Group.

Dr. Faisal Khan appeared before the County Council Tuesday night to discuss the new mask mandate. He was met with heckling from the crowd and by several members of the council instead with questions of the legality and enforcement mechanisms of the mandate and questions over his qualifications.

“It felt like being stabbed,” said Caroline Fan of the qualifications questions. She is the founder and president of the Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation and organized a press conference to speak in support of Dr. Khan Friday afternoon.

“I do not see Dr. Khan's status as someone who is born outside the country as a weakness, although some people, I guess, see it that way. I see it as a strength.”

Dr. Khan was born in Pakistan and is not “clinically licensed” in the United States, meaning he does not work with patients, but brings decades of formal medical education and work in public health around the world to the job.

“Debating public health measures is no excuse for racist, xenophobic and demeaning behavior that Dr. Khan faced on Tuesday evening,” said Amy Kuo Hammerman with the National Council of Jewish Women. “Community figures who undermine shift responsibility or publicly mock their public health officials don't just trivialize the discourse, they endanger lives.”

Fan says council members aren’t living up to the promise that came with their May 2020 proclamation, unanimously signed, condemning anti-Asian bullying and discrimination amid the pandemic.

“Through these recent attacks on Dr. Khan, these council members are not honoring their commitment to stand against anti AAPI bullying and are not serving as role models for their constituents,” she said.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy tweeted in support of Dr. Khan, and chairwoman Rita Heard Says said in an email to 5 On Your Side that “there is no place for racial intolerance.” The Chairwoman’s response came as she was named directly in Dr. Khan’s letter.

Councilman Tim Fitch, who invited Dr. Khan to the meeting, said in an interview this week that “he never heard anything that was inappropriate.”

“The only thing I heard were boos. I'll call it some jeers. Some disappointment of people not happy with his answers. I never heard anything that was inappropriate," Fitch said.

Those at Friday’s gathering also urged leadership to take seriously the advice of public health experts like Dr. Khan, as COVID-19 cases continue to be on the rise.

Public officials are appointed to their positions based on their knowledge and expertise, and hold responsibility and authority to protect the people's health,” said Hammerman. “Their decisions are not political.”

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