Asian American lawmakers call for solidarity in wake of spa shootings

Riley Bunch, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 17—ATLANTA — On the Senate floor Monday, State Sen. Michelle Au told colleagues she must speak on an issue that "has not received enough attention over the last year."

Au, one of the Georgia General Assembly's Asian American legislators, urged lawmakers to wake up to violence and racism against the Asian American community that has reportedly increased since the start of the pandemic.

"All I am asking right now — as the first east Asian senator in Georgia — is simply to fully consider us as part of your communities," she said. "Recognize that we need help, we need protection and we need people in power to stand up with us against hate."

Two days later, Atlanta is reeling from a horrific shooting at three massage parlors that killed eight people — six of them Asian Americans and seven women.

Au said she was "shaken" and while it's too early to pinpoint motive, she asked again for Georgians to stand in solidarity with Asian American residents.

"Our AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community has been living in fear this past year in the shadow of escalating racial discrimination attacks. This latest series of murder only heightens that terror," she said.

"We are scared for our families," she added. "We are scared for our friends."

Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old suspect in the metro Atlanta shootings, told investigators he killed eight people because of a "sexual addiction," according to Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jay Baker.

Although motives for the shooting are still under investigation by law enforcement, the killings have devastated the Asian American community which has been under increased attack. Advocates say there has been a surge of harassment against Asian Americans after the former president began using xenophobic language and blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent report released by advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate detailed 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Women over two times more likely to be the victims than men.

Georgia lawmakers passed a hate crimes bill last session — the first on the books in decades — after the shooting of unarmed Black man, Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick.

The spa shootings Tuesday sparked national outcry and grief. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black, Asian American and woman to hold the second highest office in the country, condemned the shootings.

"Our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed, and it speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it," she said Wednesday.

Georgia's Asian American lawmakers said the community has historically faced discrimination and exclusion.

"We have been taught as Asian Americans to keep our heads down, because our parents believe it was safer for us," Rep. Bee Nygen, an Atlanta Democrat, said. "But what's happened is that we are now invisible, and when things happen to us, people don't speak up until a tragedy like this one occurs. It is invisibility that hasn't shielded us from hate crimes, xenophobia or gender-based violence."

Lawrenceville Democrat Sen. Sheikh Rahman called the shootings "a horrifying and disturbing example of targeted racial violence."

"These malicious crimes are taking place in our own backyards. We must come together and stand up against xenophobia and any hate crimes committed against Asian Americans or anyone in our communities," he said.

Norcross Democrat Marvin Lim emphasized the impact that rhetoric has from America's leaders.

"It just goes to show, once again — if the Jan. 6 insurrection did not already — that words matter and can cost lives," he said.

Both chambers held a moment of silence for the victims Wednesday.

"As a society, we cannot tolerate this lawlessness," House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said. "Only evil can walk into a small business and wantonly gun down innocent people. There will be plenty of opportunities to determine motive and all the circumstances surrounding these hideous crimes. Our justice system will work, but today is a day for remembering."