It’s been a year since a gunman killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas. Six were women of Asian descent. The killings were the most shocking example of a wave of anti-AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) hate that began with the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.
The violence hasn’t stopped. In late January, a Korean liquor store owner in Long Beach was stabbed by a customer. She was left paralyzed from the neck down. And videos showing elderly Asians being attacked in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Tacoma have gone viral.
This anniversary of the Atlanta shootings is a solemn day, says Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, and co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action.
“It continues to lift up the fact that this is not new to our community. And certainly, it is exacerbating the fears and ongoing suffering for our community and across the country,” she tells KCRW.
Hate crimes are still happening nationwide, even in public places, and lots of work must be done to stop them, she says, adding that more than 60% of women are experiencing violence on public transit and neighborhood streets, and even in grocery stores.
From March 2020 to December 2021, Stop AAPI Hate has counted nearly 11,000 incidents. But that’s likely not the full picture, she says.
“There's a hesitancy to report, [driven by] this feeling that even if they did, what can be done about it? And so part of our mandate is to make sure that people know that it does matter that they report to visualize this issue. … The more we have an understanding of who is being impacted, where it's happening, the nature of this hate and discrimination, the more that we can develop solutions.”
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Choi says the model minority myth might exacerbate discrimination toward Asian communities and dismisses their hardships.
“It really is an attempt to deny that structural racism exists, denying that there is discrimination and bias be based on your race, your gender, your religious affiliation,” she points out. “It really obscures this notion and fact that we are so diverse and we have some of the greatest income gaps within our community. We have some members of our community who are very successful, but we also have some of the most extreme levels of poverty. … It really is a cynical attempt to divide our communities, to pit our communities against the Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities.”
Choi says investment in community-based organizations can help build violence prevention networks and services.
“No community is immune to violence. And so we have to come together around structural issues around inequality and what the drivers of hate and discrimination are.”
It’s also crucial to publicly address that women and other vulnerable community members endure some of the most harassment and find ways to prevent that.
“We should not tolerate this. We've essentially told women that we should just navigate the world concerned for our safety, that we should just accept the fact that we live our lives with this fear that when we go out at night, go out in public, [while] taking public transportation, that we should just fend for ourselves.”
She adds, “We have to address the discrimination that's happening in private businesses. No one should feel unsafe going to the grocery store or taking public transit, or merely taking a walk outside their neighborhood. And this is something that we're very committed to addressing through our legislature and also as a movement.”