On March 16, Richard Aaron Long, 21, went to three spa/massage parlors near Atlanta and shot seven women and two men. Six of the seven women were Asian and one was white. The dead man was white, the wounded man, Latinx. Long was taken into custody “without incident” after a 150 mile chase by police.
Politicians were quick to respond to the latest and most deadly attack yet on Asian/AAPI Americans.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Gov. Brian Kemp, said Tuesday evening on Twitter. “Once again we see that hate is deadly,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) tweeted. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) issued a statement which he posted on Twitter saying he was “heartbroken” for the families of the victims of the “horrific shootings.” Ossoff added that anti-Asian hate must cease.
Powerful words. But where has the House and Senate been on anti-Asian hate? Where have governors been? Where have our own leaders in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia been? Anti-Asian/AAPI attacks are up 150% in just a few months. Why the silence?
LGBTQ people know all too well about “thoughts and prayers” after acts of horrific violence against us. After the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 51 LGBTQ people were murdered and 53 others were wounded, politicians were quick to speak out against the violence.
Then, silence. Nothing changed.
Asian/AAPI Americans are 6.5% of the U.S. population. Some areas of the country have much larger Asian/AAPI populations, including our own. Which begs the question: Why has there been so little response to the escalation of anti-Asian violence over the past year?
Attacks in Philadelphia’s Chinatown district and in South Philadelphia where the largest Southeast Asian population resides have risen dramatically. Statewide, the numbers have also ticked up disproportionate to the AAPI demographic.
Christian Hall, an Asian teen in a mental health crisis, was shot to death in December by Pennsylvania State Police in the Poconos, his hands up in the classic “don’t shoot” mode we have seen all too often.
Last month a Roxborough restaurant called a house-made mac and cheese topped with
“Chinese chili garlic sauce” by the name “COVID mac.” The move prompted the Mayor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs to issue a statement.
The source of the hate and violence against Asian/AAPI people is as obvious as that Philly menu item. For the past year, former President Trump, his entire administration and the GOP electeds have referred to COVID-19 with the racist phrases “China virus” and “Kung flu,” blaming the pandemic that has killed more than a half million Americans and infected nearly 30 million, on Asians.
With hate speech comes hate crime. Videos of attacks on elderly Asian people and others have been highlighted on the national news. Unseen are the other crimes: Asian friends report being spit on or their relatives being spit on, verbally harassed and cursed at, shoved, and threatened. One GNC lesbian friend said she was pushed hard as a light changed when she was waiting to cross a street in University City and a racial slur hurled at her. “I literally could have been killed.”
Bias and discrimination against those with intersectional identities compound the threat and the risk — particularly to women like those in Atlanta or to Asian/AAPI queer and trans people. A trans woman friend of mixed Asian descent said she has felt much more unsafe during the pandemic and that she’s faced a different, added layer of abuse.
“It’s almost as if some people are deciding which insult they want to throw at me first,” she said.
These acts of harassment and violence have gone largely unreported, but have become endemic. On March 17, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) called for legislation to improve hate crime reporting and for a national day to speak out against anti-Asian/AAPI hate on March 26. In a press conference, Chu called out Donald Trump, noting he “clearly stoked the flames of xenophobia against AAPIs with his rhetoric.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the killings could spur legislation against hate crimes and for gun control. “This latest series of murders in Atlanta, reflects a rising surge of hate crimes, particularly now directly against Asian Americans,” Blumenthal said. “Americans should be absolutely revolted and outraged, but more importantly, do something.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian American VP, told reporters March 17 that the Atlanta shooting spree “speaks to a larger issue which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it.”
Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group tracking hate crimes, said they had received nearly 3,800 reports of hate crimes across the country since March 2020 compared to roughly 100 incidents annually in previous years.
In New York, where Asians/AAPI are 13% of the population, the state’s hate crime task force noted a nine fold increase in investigated incidents in 2020 compared to the previous year.
A House panel will now hold a hearing March 18 addressing the rise in anti-Asian American hate and discrimination, its first on the issue since 1987.
The shootings in Atlanta signal what LGBTQ Asians have known for a long time: the Asian immigrant community, particularly women and LGBTQ people, are highly vulnerable and the least likely to report violence against them. Asian lesbians and trans women have been frequent targets of attacks. As Chu told reporters on March 17, “It’s clear the individuals were targeted because they are amongst the vulnerable in our country, immigrant Asian women.”
The history of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. is as long as it is egregious. The Page Act of 1875 banned immigration by Chinese women. The Exclusion Act of 1882 banned immigration by all Asians. These two acts remain the only laws ever created or implemented to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating to the U.S.
Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in camps during WWII. Those imprisoned lost the equivalent of $5 billion in 2021 dollars worth of property during the war, according to the Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.
The only travel ban during the coronavirus pandemic was against Asians.
The Stop AAPI Hate group issued a statement saying that many in the Asian American community had felt targeted over the past year.
“The reported shootings of multiple Asian American women in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the Asian American community, which has been reeling from high levels of racist attacks over the course of the past year,” it said.
“This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian American community continues to endure.”
Neither the FBI nor the local authorities had labeled the Atlanta killings as a hate crime. But for Asian/AAPI Americans, the violence was terrifying. As one friend noted on Twitter, her rage was only superseded by her fear.
Stand up for your Asian friends. Join the March 26 protest. #StopAsianHate is more than a hashtag — it’s a call to action to end the violence.