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In the aftermath of the Atlanta attacks, Asian Americans grieve and mobilize.

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In the aftermath of the Atlanta attacks, Asian Americans grieve and mobilize.
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In the aftermath of the Atlanta attacks, Asian Americans grieve and mobilize.

In the aftermath of the Atlanta attacks, Asian Americans grieve and mobilize.

 

When a white gunman was charged with attacking three Atlanta-area massage parlors and killing eight people, the majority of whom were Asian women, Asian Americans were already worn down by a year of pandemic-fueled racist attacks.

Hundreds of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders took to social media to vent their frustrations, grief, anxiety, and despair. Hours after the shootings on Tuesday evening, the hashtag #StopAsianHate was a top trending subject on Twitter.

“I believe people are feeling hopeless 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 works on political and advocacy issues throughout Georgia.

Many people were also angry that the perpetrator, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was not charged with hate crimes right away. Long told investigators that the attack was not racially motivated and that he attacked the spas because of a “sex addiction,” according to authorities. Six of the seven women who were killed were Asian.

“Some experience understanding what a hate crime is” is needed for law enforcement. According to Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, “this man identified targets owned by Asians.” The shooter “was very specifically going for a targeted group of people,” according to the police report.

Huang, who is Asian American, said the shootings were personal to her. She is concerned that failing to identify the attack as a hate crime would “certainly deter anyone from coming forward and seeking assistance.”

She also frowned at a sheriff’s captain’s remark about the shooter, “It was a very bad day for him.”

The statement “appeared to be trying to clarify and justify” the suspect’s conduct, according to the police report. Huang said, “Hopefully it was a misstatement.”

Asian American business owners in the Atlanta area, according to Mahmood, are already concerned about vandalism and break-ins. The shootings would amplify that concern.

“A number of Asian American business owners in the beauty parlor industry and food service — these are also the community’s most prominent front-line faces,” Mahmood said.

Her organization is teaming up with other organisations, such as the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, to provide services in various languages, such as mental health counseling, self-defense training, and bystander training.

Meanwhile, Asian American organizations around the country held gatherings to demonstrate solidarity, from Phoenix to Philadelphia.

A vigil was organized in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon by Asian Americans United, the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance, and many other affiliate organizations.

“After the month and year we had, we knew our people needed time to grieve, recover, mourn, and talk about what was going on,” said Mohan Seshadri, co-executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance.

The killings, as depressing as they are for Asian Americans, are also a flashpoint, according to Seshadri.

“Our people are enraged and ready to fight,” Seshadri explained. “The only way we’re going to get through this is if we work together and unite our people.”

Vicente Reid, CEO of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce, is holding a vigil next week in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb with a high concentration of Asian American-owned shops and restaurants. He claims the slayings have motivated the local community to do more than hold vigils.

“I believe there is an entire forum for this younger generation that is enthusiastic and energetic. “All they need is someone to take the reins and lead them,” Reid said.

Asian Americans have been debating how to deal with a recent wave of assaults, many of which targeted the elderly, that coincided with the pandemic for several weeks. The virus was first discovered in China, and it was described in racial terms by then-President Donald Trump and others.

Trump’s rhetoric, according to a number of Asian American organisations, has emboldened people to express anti-Asian or anti-immigrant sentiments. Since March 2020, Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and its partner organizations have received nearly 3,800 reports. Women reported 2.3 times more hate crimes than men in the United States.

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

According to the anti-hate group, negative references to immigration, multiculturalism, and diversity were found in 10% of propaganda descriptions in its inventory. The ADL said that words like “invasion,” “deport,” “disease,” “illegal,” “infection,” and “virus” were used on the 522 physical flyers, stickers, or banners.

There were also seven propaganda incidents that directly linked COVID-19 to anti-China sentiment.

Meanwhile, many non-Asians have expressed empathy for Asian Americans as a result of the shootings. Mahmood claims that Asian Americans need allies to continue speaking out against racism.

“For us, the way forward is just about coming together and making sure that tragedies like this don’t split our communities.”

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