Some Asian Americans are describing Tuesday’s deadly shootings in Georgia as hate crimes that left them fearful and in shock in a year when anti-Asian violence has risen on both sides of the border.
On Tuesday night, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long entered three massage parlours in the Atlanta area and killed eight people, many of them Asian woman. The suspect has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of assault.
Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen and other advocates are urging authorities to prosecute Long under the state’s hate crime law, which imposes additional penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sex, national origin or mental and physical disabilities.
“We have evidence that the three businesses that he targeted were Asian-owned businesses that have Asian employees and as a result, six out of the eight people who died were Asian women,” Nguyen told Canada Tonight host Ginella Massa.
“There’s no getting around those facts.”
Watch: Why it’s important to label attacks in Georgia as a hate crime:
Six of eight of the victims were identified as Asian, and seven were women.
“People are worried and are praying for their families and themselves. They are heartbroken and devastated by this act,” Nguyen said.
The virus was first identified in China and former president Donald Tump and others have used anti-Chinese rhetoric to describe it.
Nguyen said in the last year Asian Americans have seen a spike in violence against them, which she believes began when Trump first used the phrase “Chinese virus” to describe COVID-19.
“That … put a target on the backs of Asians in America,” she said.
Watch: History of racism against Asians in America:
Christopher Chan, advisory chair of the Asian American Fund’s Georgia Chapter, says Asian Americans have experienced a difficult year since Trump politicized the origins of the virus and used racially charged terms to describe COVID-19.
Pandemic fuels Anti-Asian sentiments
“Words have meaning and when you describe the virus in such terms as the last administration did, you are going to suffer consequences for that,” Chan said. “And Asian Americans are suffering those consequences.”
Nguyen said even if the Atlanta-area attacks were not racially motivated, the gunman should still be charged with a hate crime because he specifically targeted women.
“In Georgia, our hate crime law also protects gender so women are protected under that statue,” she said. “[But] I do believe it was racially motivated and that it should be prosecuted as a hate crime.”
The Atlanta shootings were the latest in several attacks against Asian Americans in the last year.
In San Francisco, an 84-year-old Thai man was killed in January after a young man shoved him to the ground while he was on a morning walk. The elderly man’s head struck the pavement and he died two days later in hospital. Prosecutors charged a 19-year-old with murder and elder abuse.
In the past year, anti-Asian violence has spiked north of the border as well.
Data released by Vancouver police in February showed a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes last year. The data showed anti-Asian hate crimes rose from a dozen in 2019 to 142 incidents in 2020, a 717 per cent increase, while general hate incidents doubled.