The shooting that occurred on Tuesday at three Georgia massage businesses, where the employees were mostly of Asian descent has fuelled fears about anti-Asian hatred which has mounted in the country since the pandemic began.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta in support of the Asian American community after a shooting at three local day spas this week left eight people dead, six of them Asian women.
The killings followed a year of mounting anti-Asian violence in the United States, which community leaders say is due to Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
Crowds of people wearing masks, waving American flags and carrying posters that read "We are not the virus" and "Stop Asian Hate" stood in front of the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol building on Saturday.
"The women who perished, ... I see my family in them," Timothy Phan from Port St. Lucie, Florida, who drove eight hours to attend the rally, told CNN. "I feel like far too often, we're just erased."
Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats elected in January, attended the rally in support of the demonstrators and led them in a moment of silence for the victims, video on Twitter showed.
"We gather today to honour and remember those who lost their lives and to demand justice," Senator Ossoff said.
"Let us build a state and a nation where no one lives in fear because of who they are or where they or their family come from."
.@SenatorWarnock and I addressed today’s rally in Atlanta to mourn the victims of this week’s massacre and to express our love and support for the Asian-American community in Georgia and nationwide. Gratitude to the organizers. pic.twitter.com/kG6GMju7wz— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) March 20, 2021
“No matter how you want to spin it, the facts remain the same. This was an attack on the Asian community," said Georgia state Representative Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.
She noted that the shooter targeted businesses operated by women of Asian descent.
“Let’s join hands with our ally community and demand justice for not only these victims but for all victims of white supremacy,” she said.
Protester: Tired of fighting the same fight
A couple hundred people gathered in a separate park in the heart of downtown Atlanta and marched together through the streets to join the larger rally, yelling slogans like “We are what America looks like.”
Frankie Laguna, 23, who grew up in Atlanta but now lives in Tennessee, was an organiser of that group and told the crowd she was the first person in her family born in the US after her mother came here from Taiwan.
“I'm sick of being belittled and hypersexualised and hated for who I am, for something I can't change,” she said as the group began marching toward the Capitol.
She also participated in protests last summer against racial injustice and police brutality.
“I'm tired of having to be out here every year to fight the same fight,” she said.
Bernard Dong, a 24-year-old student from China at Georgia Tech, said he came out to the protest across from the Capitol to demand rights not just for Asians but for all minorities. “Many times Asian people are too silent, but times change,” he said.
Dong said he was “angry and disgusted” about the shootings, and the violence that persists in 2021 against Asians, minorities and women.
Possible anti-Asian bias
Georgia authorities have yet to determine what drove a 21-year-old white man who was charged with the killings at spas in and around Atlanta on Tuesday. The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, told investigators sex addiction led him to violence, but lawmakers and anti-racism advocates have said anti-Asian bias could have been at least part of the motivation.
This too. The American Medical Association actually believed Chinese sex workers would pass what they called “Chinese diseases” to white clientele. Thus the US passed the Page Act In 1875 (also called the “Oriental Exclusion Act”) targeting E Asian womenhttps://t.co/rvxAVOPR8I— Radio Free Amanda 余美娜 (@catcontentonly) March 20, 2021
Some of the women killed were immigrants and mothers, described by family and friends as hard-working, loving and beloved.
Hyun Jung Grant was among those killed at Gold Spa in Atlanta. Her son, Randy Park, set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for himself and his brother, who are alone now in the United States while the rest of their family is in South Korea.
"She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I," Park wrote.
The shootings prompted an outpouring of grief, from the local community in Georgia to the halls of US Congress. Since Tuesday, mourners have piled flower bouquets and signs, lit candles and said prayers outside the spas where the victims were killed.
US lawmakers decried the spike in anti-Asian violence in a congressional hearing on Thursday, where Democratic Representative Grace Meng, who is of Taiwanese descent, testified that the "community is bleeding."
On Friday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American community leaders in Georgia to express condolences and implore Americans to stand together against hate.