ATLANTA — Bouquets of harlequin flowers and handwritten signs blanketed the entrance of Gold Spa, the bright colors standing out against the salon’s dim interior. “Hyun Jung Grant loved karaoke she made the world’s best kimchi stew, age 51,” one sign read. “We are not scapegoats!” another said. In the parking lot in front of the salon, tree branches painted pink were arranged to spell “Love.”
Several dozen men, women and children gathered Sunday for a somber Korean-language vigil and prayer service to honor the victims of Tuesday’s shootings, in which a white man is accused of having killed eight people at three spas in the Atlanta area. Six of the victims were of Asian descent, and four were of Korean origin.
The four women killed in the two Atlanta spas were identified Friday as Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Yue, 63. The remaining victims, who were killed at a spa in Cherokee County, about 25 miles north of the city, were Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
Local Asian American Christian leaders who organized the vigil said it was intended not only to offer a space of “healing” for the community, but also to decry the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.
“I’ve received calls from people saying that there are several complicated issues to the Atlanta spa shootings,” the Rev. Byeong Han said in Korean during the vigil, referring to investigators' statements that the suspect had claimed that he was motivated by a “sexual addiction,” not racism. “This incident is not complicated. It’s clearly a hate crime from a white man targeting Asian women.”
Han said later in an interview that the suspect’s claim that he had “had a bad day” was a “poor excuse,” saying Asian Americans have been having “bad years.”
Some also called for greater solidarity with other communities of color.
“Aside from religious services, the church also plays a huge role as a social center, so it should be our obligation and moral responsibility to provide support and honor the lost members of our community,” said Wonchul Shin, 36, a Christian ethics professor at Columbia Theological Seminary near Atlanta, who led a prayer during the vigil.
Hyejin Kim, 31, a second-generation Korean American, lives across the street from Gold Spa. She recalled the spa workers' singing “hi” (annyeong) or “you came again” (ddo wah ssuh) to her any time she passed by. “It’s kind of sickening to think about, because it's so close,” she said.
Kim, whose brother knew the son of one of the victims, said she also worries for her and her family’s safety, saying, “I've never felt that I was so different until this happened.”
She said she also understands the burden the women faced as immigrant parents, because her father worked at a grocery store 16 hours a day. “All these parents sacrificed everything they could,” she said.
At #StopAsianHate rallies nationwide Saturday, lawmakers, celebrities and community leaders condemned anti-Asian violence and called for better tracking of hate crimes. Georgia didn’t have a hate crime law on the books until last year, when lawmakers passed legislation after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that would allow additional penalties for certain crimes motivated by a victim’s race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or other factors.
In Atlanta on Saturday, hundreds marched from Woodruff Park to the State Capitol, chanting “Stop Asian Hate.” Signs reading “not your fetish,” “we are not a virus” and “f--- your model minority myth” dotted the crowd.
Democratic state Rep. Sam Park, Georgia’s only Korean American legislator, said he was surprised by the size and diversity of the turnout Saturday, which included Asian, Black and Latino people. He said he remains hopeful that the Asian community can bring about meaningful change.
“We saw an unprecedented number of Asian Americans vote" in last year’s elections, "which helped change the course of this country,” Park said. “That's the power that the Asian American community in Georgia has. They need to understand that and need to use it again to ensure justice for our community moving forward.”
Other speakers included Sens. Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, and state Rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American elected to the Legislature.
Jung Wook Lee, 45, who has lived in Atlanta since 2006, was one of the hundreds of protesters who marched Saturday. “We're not going to be silent about it, and I think that is empowering for all of us,” Lee said.