Hate crimes bring attention to Asian American community

Police received reports of nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents since COVID-19 hit, and it continues. Photo by Deena Kayyali | The Signal

An AAPI Data study shows that 10% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have encountered anti-Asian hate crimes from January to March 2021, which exceeds the national average by about 6%. In other words, millions of AAPI have faced similar threats in their daily lives.

A mass shooting happened in three spas in north Atlanta on the evening of March 17, killing eight people, with six of them being Asian women.

Police caught the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, that night during his drive to Florida in a traffic stop on Interstate 75, roughly 150 miles south of Atlanta. 

At about 5 p.m. that evening, he shot outside a Cherokee County spa, killing four people. He then killed four more at two spas about 30 miles away an hour later. 

According to CNN, Long faced a charge of aggravated assault and four counts of murder from the Cherokee County sheriff’s office and four more counts of murder from the Atlanta Police Department. 

Frank Reynolds, a sheriff of Cherokee County, said that Long might have a sexual addiction, which “could be the motivation behind the shooting.” 

An anonymous caller to 911 said Long was “kicked out of the house by his family” due to sexual addiction. One law enforcement source indicates he spends a long time watching pornography online. 

Long admitted to his sex addiction and told the investigators that he saw the spas as “a temptation,” and he shot to try to “eliminate” it. 

As sex falls into the category of a hate crime under Georgia law, Long may also face a hate crime charge if his shots were to make those women scapegoats and express his hatred that they enticed him sexually. 

Long said the shootings were “not racially motivated.” However, as most of the victims were Asian, this case brought up society’s attention to the anti-Asian hate wave resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Chinese lab origin theory of the COVID-19 pandemic is the leading cause of the anti-Asian hate crime surge. Although no official research indicates this theory is true, many Americans still believe so, thanks to Trump saying “China virus” persistently. 

An article from Bloomberg News states that the U.S. has found “new evidence” that the coronavirus comes from a lab in Wuhan, China, in fall 2019. 

As Trump firmly believes the Chinese lab origin theory, most Americans who think so are conservatives. According to an article from The New Republic, over two-thirds of conservatives believe that coronavirus originates from a Chinese lab.

According to an NBC News article, police received reports of nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents over the past year since COVID-19 hit. Almost 70% of the victims were female.

“The coalescence of racism and sexism, including the stereotype that Asian women are meek and subservient, likely factors into this disparity,” the article states.

Although Trump cannot speak as publicly as he used to about this due to his ban on social media, similar anti-Asian hate crimes continue to occur. On March 27, San Francisco police caught a man who stalked and threatened an Asian woman several times.

The 42-year-old woman, who works at a bakery, first called police on March 24, saying the man suddenly burst into the store threatening that he would shoot the Chinese. The report indicates he did this for three consecutive days. 

On the following Wednesday, New York City police caught a man named Brandon Elliot for assaulting an old Asian woman physically and verbally. The victim “suffered a fractured pelvis and head contusion in the vicious attack.” 

After all of these instances of increased violence toward AAPI, the #StopAsianHate movement quickly began and received firm support.

People gathered together, rallying in major cities across the country. On March 20, the Saturday after the mass shooting, hundreds of people gathered near the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. They carried posters saying “Stop Asian Hate,” with American flags in their hands. 

Both Georgia senators joined the rally, leading a silent moment to mourn for the victims. Senator Ossoff said they should “build a state and a nation where no one lives in fear because of who they are or where they or their family come from.”

Up north in Philadelphia, people of different ages gathered together at Chinatown. They began their rally with a lion dance, a symbol of “a new start for the city and better days ahead.” Speakers told the crowd about racism incidents they experienced, and AAPI participants chanted, “We are not the virus.” 

Activist Sharlene Cubelo said the isolation she felt indicated that acting out in solidarity is crucial. People should “show the Asian American community specifically that we are here for them.”

Many Asian American CEOs also spoke out. According to CNBC, about 1,000 of them are giving $10 million to organizations that support the AAPI communities, including Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen.

Yuan said it was “disheartening” to see all the anti-Asian hate incidents, and it is vital for him to “stand up with fellows who are suffering during this time.”

In addition to donations, the business leaders also pledged to support Asian employees. For example, they will establish better AAPI employee representation and help the AAPI resource groups in their companies. 

All these deeds seem to reveal that more people are aware of the importance of embracing diversity. However, Hector L’Hoeste, a Georgia State Department of World Languages and Cultures professor, shared different views.

L’Hoeste saw people from his neighborhood protesting against anti-Asian hate, but he only knew of one Asian person living in the community.

Therefore, he wondered how many of these people protesting against Asian hatred have an Asian person within their close circle of friends. L’Hoeste said he “sincerely doubt[ed] that many of them do.”

“In plain terms, we live together, but we don’t mix … The South is still very far away from embracing social mixing,” he said. “And as long as we don’t mix, it will be very difficult to fight xenophobia and fear of the other.”

From L’Hoeste’s perspective, some people “preach celebration of diversity by day and practice homogeneity and ethnic exclusion by night.” The engagement of difference in a political protest is “almost entirely absent” in people’s actual lives. 

“As long as we don’t change this dynamic, we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of previous generations,” he said. “Tokenism isn’t inclusion, and celebration of diversity and protest against ethnic hatred isn’t acceptance.”