House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus commemorated the anniversary of the Atlanta-area spa shootings, in which eight people — six of them Asian women — were killed.
Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday to address the shootings that took place at three Asian-owned spas last year. Several lawmakers underscored that while the tragedy was horrific, countless other acts of violence against Asian Americans have occurred since.
“Because of this, America was finally shocked awake to the reality of anti-Asian hate,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the caucus chair, said of the shootings at the news event. “But in reality, for over a year xenophobic slurs like ‘China virus’ and ‘kung flu’ have been terrorizing Asian American communities across the country with thousands of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents.”
Legislators paid tribute to the eight victims, recounting the events during which Robert Aaron Long, now 22, admittedly shot five people — four of whom died — at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County. He then allegedly drove 30 miles to Atlanta, where he shot and killed four women at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa.
Long is faced with charges across two counties. He pled guilty to the charges in Cherokee County, receiving four sentences of life without parole plus an additional 35 years. District Attorney Shannon Wallace did not pursue hate crime charges against him, citing no evidence of racial animus. In Fulton County, Long entered a not guilty plea on charges including murder, aggravated assault and domestic terrorism. Fani Willis, the county’s district attorney, is seeking a sentencing enhancement under Georgia hate crimes law, in addition to the death penalty.
Legislators, including Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark Takano of California and Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, shared stories of Asian Americans who have been attacked, like Yao Pan Ma, who died from injuries he sustained when he was attacked while collecting cans, and Christina Yuna Lee, a 35-year-old who was stabbed to death allegedly by a stranger who followed her into her apartment.
Pelosi cited statistics on anti-Asian bias, noting that roughly three-quarters of Asian American and Pacific Islander women reported experiencing discrimination or racism in the last 12 months, and advocated for hate crimes legislation.
“This is why, with the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, Congress took historic action to help stamp out hate and hold offenders accountable, delivering new resources to expedite the review of hate crimes and empower the individuals to come forward,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “As we remember those stolen from us by hate, Congress will continue fighting to combat racist violence in all of its forms.”
Critics have said passing hate crimes legislation is a start in mitigating the violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but more needs to be done. Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, previously told NBC News that women across ethnicities in the community have long experienced similar levels of danger, with issues stemming far beyond “China virus” rhetoric.
At the Capitol event, Chu concluded by reminding constituents that just last week, an Asian woman in Yonkers, New York, was attacked in what police described as a “brutal hate crime.” Video shows the 67-year-old was followed into a building and punched 125 times, stomped on seven times and spat on.
Chu, who praised the Biden administration’s handling of hate incidents, called on Americans to stand with the Asian community.
“As these stories show, these crimes are continuing, and we will not be safe until we end the xenophobic rhetoric that puts lives in danger,” Chu said. “And that’s why we rely on all Americans, all of you of all ethnicities, to stand up and to stand together to stop Asian hate.”