The Asian American community was left reeling after a gunman killed eight people, including six Asian women, at three spas in the Atlanta area Tuesday evening.
Hate and bias incidents directed against Asian American and Pacific Islanders have been increasing. Since last March, the nonprofit organization Stop AAPI Hate has collected nearly 3,800 self-reports of verbal abuse, harassment and physical assaults. Sixty-eight percent of the reports came from women.
Asian American politicians, community leaders and writers expressed their anguish over the shootings Wednesday, along with their frustration at a justice system that has long failed to protect Asian women from harmful stereotypes that lead to pervasive gender-based violence.
"There's grief and there's anger," said Abraham Kim, executive director at the Council of Korean Americans.
South Korea's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Wednesday that four of the women who died were of Korean descent. Atlanta police said it was too early to determine whether the attacks were a hate crime, saying early indicators show that they might not have been racially motivated. Authorities said the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, told them that he had a "sexual addiction" and that he had not targeted the victims because of their race.
"Some folks believe that just because the crime was caused by sexual addiction, it doesn't mean race is not involved," Kim said. "It's still based on the stereotyping and objectification of Asian women."
Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, said the reluctance to classify the killings as hate crimes shows that police "don't know how racism works."
"We need to look at the political context, the years of history of oversexualizing Asian women, the racialized sexual harassment we would get on the street that's directed at us because of our looks," she said. "That's very unique to Asian American women who came here from countries with a history of U.S. colonization."
Phi Nguyen, litigation director of the civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta, said people should understand the shootings as an intersection of various forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, class and gender.
"That the Asian women murdered yesterday were working highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during an ongoing pandemic speaks directly to the compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence, and white supremacy," she said in a statement.
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office identified five victims from the first attack, in Acworth, four of whom were killed: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan; and Daoyou Feng, 44. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was injured.
Others expressed sadness and anger on social media.