Racist plaques depicting Winnie the Pooh holding a bat with chopsticks have begun to pop up around Atlanta, and police have no leads as to who is responsible.
The round, bronze and teal plaques bearing the words “Wuhan Plague,” referencing the Chinese city where the coronavirus originated, first appeared April 13 on an electrical box in Inman Park, according to Atlanta police. Another appeared three days later at a coffee shop in the neighborhood of Reynoldstown. The most recent incident occurred on April 18 at Atlanta’s Candler Park Market.
Winnie the Pooh’s association with Chinese culture originated in 2013 when parody comparisons between the cuddly bear and Prime Minister Xi Jinping went viral on social media -- and China then banned Pooh images.
The plaques appeared to be glued to the sites where they were posted.
Hodgepodge Coffeehouse owner Kristle Rodriguez said her employees alerted her to the plaque at her site. Rodriguez said she immediately called the cops and the building’s landlord, who quickly removed the plaque.
“The adhesive was still wet, meaning this happened late morning or early afternoon,” she wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “This isn't amusing, funny, politically incorrect, edgy, or punk rock. This is super fucking gross and racist. There's enough xenophobia and ignorance being spouted from this administration, we certainly don't need street art reinforcing this shit.”
Her post has over 6,400 reacts, though the comments are filled with trolls posting memes condoning the message of the plaque.
Harassment aimed at Asian Americans has become commonplace since the coronavirus has taken hold of the country. The FBI reported that hate crime incidents targeting the Asian community will likely surge in the coming months. Last month, a report from an Israeli artificial intelligence startup showed that online hate speech targeting Asian people had increased by 900 percent.
Despite the plaque’s overt racism, Atlanta police department spokesperson Carlos Campos said that the crime will likely not be considered a racial bias crime as police would need further proof that the motive was based on race, sex, sexual orientation or religion.
“If someone were to be identified as placing them, any charges would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, depending largely on whether any damage was done to the property to which the medallion is being affixed,” Campos told the Atlantic Journal-Constitution.
Georgia does not have a hate crime statute of any kind, so local police will likely have to hand over the case to the federal government in order to prosecute the unlawful act under federal hate crime laws following an arrest.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to begin reopening the state as early as tomorrow to the dismay of Democratic state lawmakers and health experts. It will be one of six Southern states to test the waters of opening businesses even as coronavirus cases continue to increase steadily across the country.
Cover: From the Facebook page of Kristle Rodriguez