hate crimes

Asian Americans Are Both Grieving and Angry Over Atlanta-Area Killings

Hate and bias incidents directed against Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been increasing

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Asian Americans were already worn down by a year of pandemic-fueled racist attacks when a white gunman was charged with attacking three Atlanta-area massage spas and killing eight people, most of them Asian women.

Hundreds of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders turned to social media to air their anger, sadness, fear and hopelessness. The hashtag #StopAsianHate was a top trending topic on Twitter hours after the shootings that happened Tuesday evening.

“I think the reason why people are feeling so hopeless is because Asian Americans have been ringing the bell on this issue for so long ... We’ve been raising the red flag,” said Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Atlanta-based Asian American Advocacy Fund, which does political and advocacy work across Georgia.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he has been briefed by the director of the FBI and attorney general on the situation in Georgia. Biden said he is waiting for the motivation of the shooting to be determined.

Many were also outraged that the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was not immediately charged with hate crimes. Authorities said Long told police the attack was not racially motivated, and he claimed that he targeted the spas because of a “sex addiction." Six of the seven slain women were identified as Asian.

Law enforcement needs “some training understanding what a hate crime is. This man identified targets owned by Asians,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. The gunman “was very clearly going after a targeted group of people.”

Being Asian American herself, Huang said the shootings felt personal. She is worried that not classifying the attack as a hate crime will “absolutely discourage others from coming forward and seeking help.”

During a House Homeland Security committee hearing on Wednesday, DHS Secy. Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed that the FBI is investigating the shooting spree that left 8 dead in Atlanta, Ga.

She also cringed at the comments of a sheriff's captain who said of the gunman, “It was a really bad day for him.”

The remark “appeared to be trying to explain and justify” the suspect's actions. "Hopefully it was a misstatement,” Huang said.

Mahmood said Asian American business owners in the Atlanta area were already fearful because of incidents like graffiti and break-ins. The shootings will raise that worry to new heights.

“A lot of Asian American business owners in the beauty parlor industry and food service — these are often the most visible front-line faces in the community,” Mahmood said.

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the media on Wednesday and spoke about the recent mass hotting in Georgia that left 8 people dead.

Her organization is partnering with other groups like the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice to offer resources in multiple languages, including mental health assistance, self-defense training and bystander training.

Meanwhile, from Phoenix to Philadelphia, Asian American organizations nationwide organized events aimed at showing unity.

Asian Americans United, the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance and several other partner groups held a vigil Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia's Chinatown neighborhood.

“After the month and year we had, we knew our folks needed the time to come together safely just to grieve and heal and mourn and speak to what’s happening,” said Mohan Seshadri, Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance co-executive director.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant says it is too early to call the killings at three Atlanta area spas hate crimes. Six of the eight people killed were of Asian descent. Officials say the suspect said he had issues with sexual addiction.

As much despair as Asian Americans feel, Seshadri said, the shootings also mark a flashpoint.

“Our folks are pissed off and ready to fight,” Seshadri said. “The way we get through this is together by organizing our people and feeling solidarity.”

Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicente Reid is planning a vigil next week in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, which has a high concentration of Asian American-owned shops and restaurants. He thinks the slayings have galvanized the local community to go beyond vigils.

“I think there is this whole outlet of this younger generation who's passionate and has the energy. They just need someone to step up and lead them,” Reid said.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked since the coronavirus entered the U.S. and high profile people like former President Trump dubbed it the "China virus." But discrimination against the community has been a rampant, but underreported, problem long before COVID-19. Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data, joined LX News to talk about this painful history and what can be done about it.

For the past several weeks, Asian Americans have questioned how to deal with a recent wave of assaults — many on the elderly — that coincided with the pandemic. The virus was first identified in China, and then-President Donald Trump and others have used racial terms to describe it.

Numerous Asian American organizations say Trump's rhetoric has emboldened people to express anti-Asian or anti-immigrant views. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and its partner groups, since March 2020. Nationally, women reported hate crimes 2.3 times more than men.

Following the release Wednesday of a report showing a surge in white supremacist propaganda in 2020, the Anti-Defamation League told The Associated Press that a significant amount of the propaganda included anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The anti-hate group said 10% of propaganda descriptions in its inventory contained negative references to immigration, multiculturalism or diversity. The 522 physical flyers, stickers or banners included the use of words such as “invasion, deport, disease, illegal, infection and virus,” the ADL said.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have been on the rise since the coronavirus came to the U.S. last year. With a recent surge in these racist incidents attracting renewed attention, Amanda Nguyen, CEO of the civil rights organization Rise, joined LX News to explain why “Asian Americans are dying to be heard.”

There were also seven propaganda incidents with direct anti-China references to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the shootings have drawn support for Asian Americans from many non-Asians. Asian Americans need allies to continue speaking out against racism, Mahmood said.

“The path forward for us is really just standing together and making sure we don’t let these types of tragedies divide our communities."

Associated Press Writer Aaron Morrison in New York City contributed to this report.

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