As Stephanie Drenka celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in a Dallas park, she was also feeling a bit anxious.
She looked around Sammons Park, which on May 6 was filled with traditional Asian dance performances and demonstrations. Drenka thought to herself that the event would make an easy target for someone looking to attack a large group of Asian American and Pacific Islander families.
On the same day, just a suburb away, a gunman parked his car outside a mall in Allen, pulled out an AR-15 and started to shoot into the crowd of shoppers.
Authorities have not officially determined a motive for Saturday’s attack that killed eight people, but are examining it as a possible hate crime due to the gunman’s neo-Nazi and racist content on social media as an indicator that he was targeting people of color.
The gunman made hate-filled posts about women, Jewish people and Black people and shared a picture of two tattoos he had, one of a swastika on the left side of his chest and one of the Nazi SS on his right upper arm.
Out of the eight people killed, four were of Asian descent. Among the seven people injured in the shooting are a 6-year-old Korean-American boy whose parents and brother were killed, and a man from India whose friend was killed. At least one injured victim is Black. At least four victims were Hispanic, as was the shooter. In one of gunman Mauricio Garcia’s social media posts, the Associated Press reported, he shared a meme of a Latino child at a fork in a road, with one direction labeled “act black” and the other “become a white supremacist.”
“I think I’ll take my chances with the white supremacist,” the shooter wrote.
Living in fear
Allen is about 20% Asian American or Pacific Islander, and Collin County has one of the fastest-growing Asian-American populations in Texas. The Allen Premium Outlets mall that the gunman targeted attracts a large number of shoppers who are Asian American or Pacific Islander, the Texas Tribune reported.
“It is especially alarming to find that the gunman had posted pictures of handwritten diary pages targeting Asian men and women,” the Ka:ll Community Dinner Church, an AAPI community group in Dallas, said in a statement about the shooting. “Out of the eight people who were killed, four were of Asian descent, and it was not by accident.”
To Drenka, who is the co-founder and executive director of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society, the shooting was an example of increasing hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“We’ve been living in fear, I would say for several years now,” she said. “And that is continually being compounded by further acts of violence.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders especially have increasingly been the target of discrimination and hate crimes, according to the FBI. As the pandemic hit the U.S., people of Asian descent became a scapegoat for COVID-19, and some national leaders pushed anti-Asian rhetoric.
“Because we are outsiders and easy to target for that scapegoating,” Drenka said. “When you layer on the neo-Nazism, it’s a perfect storm for racial violence.”
History of violence
North Texas itself is no stranger to racial violence. In 1921, a Fort Worth mob lynched Fred Rouse in the only documented lynching of a Black person in the city’s history. In the 1920s, Dallas may have had the largest KKK chapter in the world. The large Asian-American population in Allen is in itself a result of racism in DFW, Drenka said, as many Asian-American communities and other people of color were pushed out of Dallas over the decades and found homes in the suburbs.
While dark, the racism in Texas’ history must be acknowledged, said Jerry Hawkins, the executive director of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. Ignoring the context “creates an environment where these things are erased from our memory,” he said.
“And that is a dangerous, dangerous sentiment,” Hawkins said. “It creates the ability for people to create new narratives of being replaced by people of color.”
More recently, in August 2019, Patrick Crusius, who coincidentally lived in Allen, drove to El Paso, where he shot and killed 23 people at a Walmart. He said in a social media post prior to the attack that it was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Both Crusius’ and Mauricio Garcia’s social media posts centered around white nationalist views. Dallas-Fort Worth has increasingly become a hotbed for such extremism, according to data from the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League.
Patriot Front, a far-right group led by a Coppell native, was responsible for nearly 80% of all white supremacist propaganda in 2020, according to the ADL.
In a January 2020 Texas Department of Public Safety memo, the agency warned that “White Racially Motivated” terrorism attacks were the “most violently active domestic terrorism type” in the country. The memo specifically mentioned the El Paso shooting.
Of the more than 1,000 people charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, at least 28 are from North Texas, according to an analysis of FBI data. In the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol, the FBI Dallas Field Office warned North Texas law enforcement that the boogaloos, a far-right militia group, could expand in the Dallas-Fort Worth area due to the “presence of existing anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists.” In June 2022, of the 31 white nationalists arrested at a gay pride event in Idaho, seven were from North Texas.
“You could go on and on with the existence of white nationalism here, and the threat that it poses to us domestically here,” Hawkins said.
Demand for action
After the shooting, Drenka said she and others in communities of color are anxious about hosting other events.
“We’re seeing such a lack of response from law enforcement that we don’t feel confident that other people who might share the ideologies of the shooter wouldn’t try to do something similar,” she said.
She hopes authorities will thoroughly investigate the motives of Garcia — who was killed by a police officer minutes after his attack began — and denounce his white supremacy. As crimes motivated by bias increase in Texas and the nation, political leaders and law enforcement should send an equally strong message back that such hate will not be tolerated, she said.
Hawkins encouraged people to educate themselves about the history of racism in Texas and for elected officials to “create platforms of learning, togetherness and healing and also truth telling.”
“We have so much work to do when it comes to the work of racial equity, racial healing and racial justice,” he said. “And that is something that our community members ... our elected officials need to take very seriously.”
In response to the shooting in Allen, the Stop AAPI Hate coalition said in a statement “the tragedy was yet another reminder of the dangerous consequences of hate and bigotry.
“The ongoing normalization and amplification of white supremacy and far-right extremism poses a growing threat to communities of all stripes across the nation, and inaction on this issue continues to destroy lives,” the group said.