The AAPI community is reeling after a deadly shooting in Monterey Park, California this weekend.
Dismissing the tragedy due to the suspect's race ignores the experience of Asian Americans and a history of targeted violence.
Public safety and community-centered solutions are necessary to solving an 'epidemic' of violence.
The Asian community in America is grieving after a mass shooting following a Lunar New Year celebration in California this weekend.
Ten people were killed at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park on Saturday night, according to authorities. The city, which has a majority Asian population, is widely regarded as the first suburban Chinatown and a haven for many Asian Americans.
Police found the suspected gunman on Sunday, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. Authorities have not announced a motive, but familiar feelings of fear and dread swiftly resurfaced among the AAPI community, which has faced a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic.
When authorities revealed the suspect was a man of Asian descent, some media outlets and pundits criticized politicians and members of the Asian American community who had condemned the shooting as an act of hate.
But the suspect's race does not preclude apprehension or calls for solidarity. To dismiss — and even ridicule — the tragedy as just another mass shooting is also a dismissal of the experiences of the Asian American community, and a history of marginalization, targeted violence, and bigotry.
"The incident highlights the fact that there are many forms of violence our community deals with all the time, and gun shootings and mass violence are a part of that," Jane Shim, who leads anti-Asian violence work at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said.
"A 'gotcha' is a totally absurd thing to say when incidents of anti-Asian violence occur every day, whether it's serious physical violence or verbal harassment," Shim told Insider.
Heightened fear amid a history of violence
When a tragedy occurs in a predominantly non-white area, the gut instinct of some members of marginalized communities may be to believe it is an act of targeted violence. That instinctual reaction is rooted in a history of persecution and violence that has only heightened in recent years.
"We got a target put on our back. We not only saw rising hate and violence against AAPI, Jewish, LGBTQ+, Black, and Latino communities since Donald Trump was elected, but also saw even higher levels during the pandemic," Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, said.
Anti-Asian attacks hit a record in recent years, punctuated by devastating events like the Atlanta spa shootings. Hate crimes toward Asian Americans increased by 339% in 2021, compared to a 124% rise in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Last year, Michelle Go died after a man pushed her onto subway tracks in New York City. Almost exactly one year later in January 2023, an 18-year-old female student was stabbed in the head repeatedly because she was Asian.
The Monterey Park shooting sheds light on questions about not only racial violence, but also about violence more broadly — whether it's within or across identity groups. Militarism, colonialism, and hostility sown among groups are broader factors that "feed into a culture of violence," Shim told Insider.
"Asian American communities are also impacted by violence within our communities, and that's an important thing to talk about as well," Shim added.
Community-based and systematic solutions to an 'epidemic' of violence
Experts say both public safety and community-centered solutions are necessary to addressing the problem of violence in America.
The Monterey Park shooting is a "continuation of a massive epidemic of gun violence that's causing these massacres," Stanley Mark, senior staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said.
"The heart of the problem here is the unfettered access to guns, even in a state that has some of the strongest gun laws in the country," Nikore told Insider, citing how gun ownership has led to an increase in domestic partner violence, accidental deaths, and deliberate attacks.
In addition to a re-defining of public safety and gun laws, communities can take steps to create a network of solutions that help prevent violence in the first place, including mental health counseling, financial and legal aid, and local organizations that understand the community they serve firsthand, according to experts.
"The bottom line is, it's violence. Just like the people who were killed in the Buffalo supermarket, the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Baton Rouge nightclub, or schools across America, these families and individuals are suffering," Mark said. "We need to recognize that we're all in it together, and we need to deal with this in a systematic and structural way."
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