A year after Atlanta shootings, protesters denounce anti-Asian hate

People across the U.S. commemorated one year since the Atlanta spa shootings on Wednesday, gathering in rallies to protest anti-Asian violence. Data shows that the pandemic exacerbated hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
People hold signs during a New York rally, March 16, 2022, to remember the victims a year after the fatal shootings at three Georgia businesses and denounce anti-Asian violence that has risen sharply in recent years.

Americans protesting anti-Asian violence gathered in Atlanta and other U.S. cities on Wednesday to mark one year since a mass shooting of women of Asian heritage in Atlanta-area spas awoke the nation to the spike in hate incidents against the community.

Advocates organized events in a dozen cities including Houston, Detroit, and San Francisco, to raise awareness over the growing risk of violence, accentuated in recent days by the brutal beating of a woman of Asian descent in New York.

About 200 people assembled inside a freight depot on a rainy afternoon in Atlanta, some holding signs with the slogans, “We will not be silent” and “Asians deserve justice,” to mark the anniversary of when Robert Aaron Long fatally shot eight people at three spas in and around the city, including six Asian women.

“I want to know: Is America paying attention? I don’t think they are,” said Amy Chomthakham, a health care worker at the Atlanta event, which was opened with a moment of silence and the banging of a handheld gong eight times, once for each death.

While police say that Mr. Long, a white man, was driven to violence by his sex addiction, many saw misogyny and racial bias as likely triggers behind the massacre, which came as anti-Asian hate crimes were rising across the United States.

Experts have said the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, was prompting people to lash out against Asian-Americans.

President Joe Biden issued a statement on Wednesday saying the shooting had forced Americans to “reckon with our nation’s long legacy of anti-Asian sentiment and gender-based violence” while highlighting the COVID-⁠19 Hate Crimes Act he signed last year aimed at combating violence against Asian Americans.

Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, drew parallels between the discrimination historically faced by Asian Americans and Black people, whose rights were restricted under Jim Crow laws that persisted into the 1960s.

“My father grew up in the Jim Crow South. What happened here was an echo of that,” Ms. Abrams, who is Black, told the crowd in Atlanta. “We are all here because we must remember. We must tell Asian stories because those are the stories of America.”

The “Break The Silence – Justice for Asian Women” rallies on Wednesday were held to commemorate the lives taken in the Long shootings: Paul Andre Michels, 54; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Daoyou Feng, 44; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Soon Chung Park, 74.

A total of 10,905 hate incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported between March 19, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, according to research released this month by the nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate. The majority of incidents concerned women and 16% involved physical assault, the group found.

A separate report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, showed that hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders rose 164% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020.

The problem was highlighted by a brutal assault in Yonkers, New York, where police said a woman of Asian descent on Friday was punched more than 125 times and stomped on by a man who called her an anti-Asian slur before launching the unprovoked attack.

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Executive Director Sung Yeon Choimorrow said the scapegoating of Chinese people for the pandemic, especially by former President Donald Trump, is partly to blame for the rise in violence.

Ms. Choimorrow said that while Asian Americans were targets of racial violence well before the pandemic, now they are more willing to speak up about their experiences, with the Atlanta shootings serving as a catalyst for people to listen.

“Nothing had galvanized the country like the Atlanta spa shootings did,” she said. “It opened this space up for us to step in and be able to explain why this happened.”

This story was reported by Reuters. Brendan O’Brien from Chicago and Nathan Layne from Wilton, Connecticut contributed to this report.

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