The three shootings on Tuesday that killed eight people, six of them Asian women, has dramatically increased the sense of fear in the Asian community, which has already been experiencing an uptick in violence and hate incidents.
Police arrested a suspect but have not determined the motive for the shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said Wednesday that it was too soon in the investigation to say where the shootings were a hate crime. Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said the suspect told authorities his actions were not racially motivated and that he had a sexual addiction.
Even if this incident is not determined to be a hate crime, community leaders and experts say a series of violent attacks earlier this year and a rise in hate incidents are fueled by racist rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic and are "distinct but related trends."
"Asian American communities were already set on edge, we were alarmed by the rate of violence and hate directed towards us," said Russell Jeung, who created Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents against Asian American Pacific Islander communities, said. "The shooting is again the worst type of violence we could go through ... it can't continue."
U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., offered his condolences to the victim's family's on Twitter, highlighting that the shootings occurred during a spike in anti-Asian violence. Lieu said racist phrases used by the former president "inflamed discrimination against the Asian American community."
"Was this a hate crime? We need more evidence," Lieu said on Twitter. "But we do know the alleged murderer targeted three locations where the victims would disproportionately be Asian women."
Leaders of Asian American Advancing Justice - Atlanta called on local and state government officials to provide crisis intervention resources and "address the root causes of violence and hate."
“That the Asian women murdered yesterday were working highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during an ongoing pandemic speaks directly to the compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence and white supremacy,” said Phi Nguyen, the group's litigation director, in a statement.
Anti-Asian violence, hate incidents on the rise
Violence against Asian Americans sharply increased in March 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading across the country, Jeung told USA TODAY last month.
Stop AAPI Hate, which includes a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the U.S. from its inception on March 19 to Feb. 28, 2021, according to data released Tuesday before the Georgia shootings.
Women report hate incidents 2.3 times more than men and Koreans are the second largest ethnic group that report experiencing hate, according to the new data. The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that its diplomats in Atlanta confirmed four of the women killed Tuesday were of Korean descent.
"There is what we call intersectional oppression, that they're seen as vulnerable both because they’re Asian and because they’re women," Jeung said.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise:Here's what activists, lawmakers and police are doing to stop the violence
Another organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian American Justice Center, recorded more than 3,000 hate incidents in its self-reporting system since late April 2020 – by far the highest number in the tool's four-year history.
The FBI collects national hate crime data, but data for 2020 and 2021 has not yet been released. In 2019, 216 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported, according to the latest data available.
That number may be just a fraction of the true total given that fewer than half of the victims of a hate crime ever report it to the police, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In Georgia, 32 anti-Asian hate incidents were reported between March 20 and Oct. 28, 2020, mirroring the nationwide trend, according to Stop AAPI Hate.
Georgia was one of only a handful of states without hate crimes laws until Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation in June imposing additional penalties for crimes motivated by bias and mandating data collection on hate crime incidents in the state. Kemp signed the legislation weeks after Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was shot by armed white men in what many called a modern-day lynching.
Recent violent attacks draw outrage
A series of violent crimes against Asians and Asian Americans earlier this year caused concern on social media and prompted activists and experts to call for more to be done to address violence against the community
In San Jose on Feb. 3, a 64-year-old Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000 in cash she had withdrawn for Lunar New Year. No arrest has been made, and there is no indication the robbery was race-related, public information officer Sgt. Christian Camarillo said.
In New York that same day, 61-year-old Noel Quintana, who is of reportedly Filipino descent, was slashed in the face with a box cutter on the subway. Quintana told the Washington Post a suspect has been arrested and charged with assault. Spokesperson Detective Denise Moroney told USA TODAY the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force is investigating this incident as a possible bias crime.
In San Francisco on Jan. 28, Vicha Ratanapakdee, a Thai man, was attacked and later died. Eric Lawson, his son-in-law, told USA TODAY last month he believes the 84-year-old was targeted because he was Asian. Lawson added that his wife, who is Thai, was verbally assaulted twice and told to "go back to China" before the attack.
"Everyone is dancing around the issue, and no one's addressing it," he said.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed murder and elder abuse charges against Antoine Watson, but his office has "no evidence of what motivated this senseless attack," spokesperson Rachel Marshall told USA TODAY in February.
Although it's unclear whether these particular cases are racially motivated, they are certainly "related" and "horrific," Jeung told USA TODAY last month.
"What makes it worse is we see our elderly and youth also targeted," he said. "It seems like people are attacking vulnerable populations."
This group of 700 volunteers is taking action:A string of attacks against Asian Americans rattles California's Bay Area
Biden denounces hate crimes, lawmakers introduce legislation
During his first primetime address to the nation Thursday, President Joe Biden called out "vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who've been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated."
"At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the frontlines of this pandemic trying to save lives," Biden said. "And still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American and it must stop."
Biden signed a memorandum in late January denouncing xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Lawmakers from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, a group of lawmakers representing the interests of Asian Americans, have requested a meeting with the administration to discuss the orders' implementation, though the meeting has not yet been scheduled.
'It's wrong, it's un-American':President Biden denounces attacks against Asian Americans
Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce a new bill addressing the rise in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans amid the pandemic. The bill, a revised version of legislation introduced but not passed in the last Congress, would create a new position at the Department of Justice to facilitate the review of hate crimes and provide oversight of hate crimes related to COVID-19.
Jeung said expanding ethnic studies, civil rights protections, restorative justice models, linguistically appropriate mental health and trauma resources, and neighborhood watch programs are necessary to address the range of racism the community is facing.
"We need a whole government approach that’s comprehensive to uproot the racism we’re experiencing and the violence," he said.
This Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing on “Discrimination and Violence Against Asian Americans."
John C. Yang, president and CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC who is expected to testify before the subcommittee, said on Twitter that the hearing "became even more important," Tuesday night.
"Our community needs to feel protected, and policymakers must hear and address our concerns," he said.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY
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