Across the country this weekend, lawmakers and citizens alike have been condemning violence against Asian Americans and calling for greater solidarity with the community, after six Asian women were killed in Atlanta on Tuesday in shootings that also left two others dead.
Korean American Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both Republicans representing districts in southern California, spoke on CNN’s State of the Union about the rise in violence against Americans of Asian descent in recent months.
“It has been heartbreaking to see the rise in anti-Asian American hate and harassment over the last year,” Steel said.
The remarks are in response not only to Tuesday’s shootings, in which Asian-owned businesses were targeted, but to a significant increase in violence against Americans of Asian descent over the last year.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks anti-Asian sentiment, there have been at least 3,795 anti-Asian incidents — both physical and verbal — in the United States since March 2020.
Some observers tie the increase in violence to anti-Chinese rhetoric perpetuated throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic is believed to have originated in China, and some political leaders, including former President Donald Trump, referred to Covid-19 using derogatory language, such as calling it the “kung flu” or “the China virus.”
“That was very insensitive, to bring all these hateful comments and attack, and call out the Asian American community as the community as what’s responsible for what we’re facing right now … this is completely wrong,” Kim told State of the Union. “The words of the leaders have consequences. They need to be careful about what they say, because people really take that to heart.”
Speaking in Atlanta on Friday, President Joe Biden expressed support for a COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bill authored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) which would expand federal hate crime laws and require expedited federal review of coronavirus-related hate crimes.
Steel introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning hateful acts against Asian Americans, and on Sunday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) highlighted the House’s bipartisan efforts on the issue, while lamenting the fact that no Republican senators have cosponsored the Hate Crimes Act. “Where can you be that you would not be willing to vote on a bill that would condemn violence against any group of Americans?” Duckworth asked on Face the Nation.
It is still unclear whether the alleged shooter, who now faces eight murder charges, will also be charged with a hate crime, either in Georgia — where that charge would extend his sentence — or federally. To be charged with a federal hate crime, the suspected shooter would need to have explicitly articulated a racist or misogynistic motivation; for example, by saying a slur.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat also from southern California, said that she believed the attack was a hate crime.
“He specifically went to those Asian spas, where it was clear in all three spaces there would be many Asian women,” she said.
Chu, the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, acknowledged that it would be difficult to clear the legal bar for defining the shootings as hate crimes, because people who might have heard the suspect express a motivation “spoke another language, they may not have heard him, they may be dead.”
“But In my mind, in the minds of many, this is an anti-Asian hate crime,” she said.
Rallies were held around the US in support of those killed — and against anti-Asian sentiment
Rallies have also taken place throughout the week in solidarity with Asian Americans and to call for an end to bigotry and violence against people of Asian descent in cities and towns across the United States.
During the week, rallies took place in Minneapolis, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Over the weekend, local leaders and officials addressed crowds.
In Atlanta, where the killings took place, hundreds of people rallied on Saturday. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff spoke, as did Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who the Associated Press describes as the “first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House.”
“This was an attack on the Asian community,” said Nguyen. “Let’s join hands with our ally community and demand justice for not only these victims but for all victims of white supremacy.”
In San Francisco, which has been the site of several attacks on residents of Asian descent, locals described their encounters with racist violence. Rallies also took place in Los Angeles County, San Diego, and Oakland, among other cities in California — the state with the largest Asian American population.
Korean Canadian actress Sandra Oh spoke at a rally in Pittsburgh.
“One thing I know: many of us in our community are very scared, and I understand that, and one way to get through our fears is to reach out to our communities,” Oh said.
In New York, a vigil was held Friday night, and people marched from Times Square to Manhattan’s Chinatown on Saturday. On Sunday, community groups in different parts of the city organized a solidarity bike ride, a unity vigil, and rallies.
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