From Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Philadelphia, thousands gathered this weekend at vigils across the country with signs, candles, portraits and flowers grieving the eight victims of Tuesday’s shootings in Atlanta and crying out against anti-Asian racism.
In Atlanta, hundreds attended a rally and march Saturday afternoon, some holding signs reading “Stop Asian Hate” and “Racism Is A Virus.” The demonstrators met at Liberty Plaza, across the street from the Georgia state Capitol, where just last year lawmakers passed a hate crimes bill allowing additional penalties to be added when perpetrators are convicted of other crimes.
The suspect in Tuesday’s shootings, a 21-year-old white man, has been charged with eight counts of murder. Investigators say the suspect claims race did not play a role in targeting the businesses, but they have not yet ruled out a racist motive.
“I know there’s a lot of fear in the Asian American community — fear to walk outside their door, fear to go to their businesses,” said Georgia state Rep. Sam Park, the son of Korean immigrants who became the first Korean American Democrat elected to the Georgia state legislature in 2016. “I want to tell anyone who may be scared today: Do not be afraid. This is our home. This is our country. And we will not go back.”
Tuesday’s killings came as many Asian Americans were already trying to draw attention to an increase in anti-Asian hate incidents and violence during the coronavirus pandemic. A recent study from California State University-San Bernardino found anti-Asian hate crimes rose in several large cities in 2020.
President Biden spoke out against anti-Asian hate in an address from Atlanta Friday night, while a vigil in New York City drew Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang.
Speaking to the crowd of hundreds gathered in Manhattan’s Union Square, New York state Sen. John Liu joined the many this week who have criticized authorities in Cherokee County, Ga., for seemingly taking the shooter at his word in denying the attack was racially motivated.
“He had his gun and went into an Asian business looking to kill Asians, and then he did it again,” said Liu, who is Taiwanese American. “And there’s a question as to whether this is a hate crime? That is absolutely outrageous.”
For Asian American owners of businesses, the shootings left them newly worried about their own safety after a year many say has been marked by racist comments about the coronavirus pandemic.
At a virtual vigil hosted Friday night by the Atlanta chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Atlanta-area restaurant owner Ching Hsia said Tuesday’s attack left her afraid for her family and their employees at Yen Jing, their Korean-Chinese restaurant in Doraville, Ga.
“We receive racist calls asking if we sold bat soup, or if anyone working at the restaurant has coronavirus,” Hsia said. “We had customers who refused to wear a mask even when we offered them masks for free, saying things like ‘Why should we be the one wearing masks when it was you who brought it over here?’ ”
“Today it happened to massage parlors,” she added. “Tomorrow it could be restaurants, salons, anywhere else.”