Shocked and scared, LA’s Asian American community is reeling from the Atlanta mass shooting

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Atlanta police officers and detectives respond to a crime scene at Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa, both located in the 1900 block of Piedmont Road NE in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. A 21-year-old man from Woodstock, Georgia, who was captured in south Georgia on Tuesday night, is the suspect in three metro Atlanta massage parlor shootings that left eight people dead, authorities said. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, authorities said. Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS/Sipa USA

There’s a lot we don’t know about the attack on Atlanta area spas that killed at least eight people. But we do know that six of the victims were Asian women, and that their deaths happened amid a disturbing spike in hate crimes and harassment. 

The tragedy is one more event that has Southern Californians calling for an end to attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. 

Connie Chung Joe heads the local chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ). She spoke to KCRW about the tragedy. 

KCRW: The Georgia chapter of AAAJ put out a statement on the shootings. It says, “The broader context cannot be ignored. The shootings happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by white supremacy and systemic racism.” Can you talk a little more about this context? 

Connie Chung Joe: “What we've been hearing some folks say is that the man who committed these heinous acts was somehow deranged and he was a sexual deviant, or they've been labeling him as such. 

In doing so, taking away the fact that there is systemic racism and a pattern of racist hate going on and just making it about this one individual guy. And when they do that, then they're saying, well, it's just him. And it's not necessarily a race-based hate crime. 

What Atlanta is emphasizing here is that, no, you have to look at what happened here in the context of the bigger environment that we live in. But since the pandemic has occurred, there have been more than 3000, and now close to 4000, incidents of hate against the Asian American community. We had an administration and elected officials who repeatedly referred to this pandemic and this virus as the ‘Wuhan virus,’  the ‘China virus’ or the ‘Kung Flu,’ and therefore put a bullseye on the back of the Asian American community. We want to make sure to frame that history. 

And of course, most recently in the last few months, we have seen an increase in these hate incidents, not only in terms of the numbers, but we've seen it in terms of the severity and the violence. And yesterday's mass shooting was just really the lowest point that we've had so far.”

How do harmful stereotypes against Asian women come into play here?

“We know that under this pandemic, Asian women have been victimized twice as often as Asian men. And we know that Asian women historically in this country have been often treated as submissive, docile, weak and therefore easy to target. 

When you look at the crimes and the hate incidents that have been occurring since the pandemic began against the Asian American community, you see a pattern of perpetrators going after folks that they perceive to be somehow weak or less able to defend themselves. This would include seniors, this would include women, and these would include immigrants.”

What else are you hearing from Californians about how they're processing these attacks?

“People are shocked. They are hurt, they're scared. 

The reason why hate attacks are elevated higher than any other kind of regular attack is because when you do a race-based attack, you're not just attacking that individual. You're attacking the entire community. I have talked to many people who feel quite scared right now, even before yesterday's attack, when we saw the spate of attacks against seniors.

I knew many seniors who have opted not to take their daily walks to the park or go to their grocery store and are just imprisoned in their house because they're too scared to come out. Now with what's happened with these mass shootings, we are seeing a lot of just shock, anger, sadness and trauma with my own staff as well.”

The group Stop AAPI Hate just released a study of all the reports of harassment it’s received in the last year. It found nearly 1,700 incidents in California. That’s everything from verbal harassment to physical assault. How does that reflect what your group has been tracking?

“We have been also collecting reports of hate incidents and hate crimes. What we've seen from our numbers is that we started collecting our tracker in 2017. At its highest between 2017 to 2019, we usually got maybe a couple of dozen reports a year in 2019. It was actually in the single digits. In 2020, we received over 300 reported incidents and then in 2021, just in the first two and a half months so far we have gotten about 80.”

Are there any specific reports in the LA area that you think highlight the problems? 

“We saw a Korean American man who was beaten in Koreatown and had his nose fractured. But when you look at the cases, what the data shows us is that in about 90% of the cases, the vast majority of cases, there are hate incidents.

There are things like verbal harassment, somebody spitting on you, somebody calling you a racial slur, which are terrible acts, but they do not lead to arrest and a criminal prosecution. What that has taught us is that it's really important to look past just hate crimes. 

And you need to look at all hate incidents and what we see — because so many of them are hate incidents as opposed to hate crimes — is that it's really important to focus on what are community-based interventions. If you rely overly on the police enforcing these, the police aren't going to be able to do much to enforce hate incidents. They will not arrest somebody for them. 

What we need to think about instead is what else can be done and what else can the police do when these hate incidents occur? … We are encouraging them if somebody reports a hate incident to them, give them resources or community-based services and resources where you're supposed to go. If you want to talk about discrimination, you can refer them to Asian Americans Advancing Justice helpline so we can provide legal services or victims advocate.”



Larry Perel


Tara Atrian