DALLAS — Shooting attacks on Asian American businesses in this city's Korean Historic District have left employees fearful, patrons hesitant to return and led to calls for police to increase security to reduce hate crimes.
Since the first attack early last month, the employees who earn their living here and customers who regularly shop here have dealt with the question of what comes next.
They found out last week when a wave of drive-by shootings peaked after a gunman walked into the Hair World Salon in the Hanmiri Plaza and opened fire.
Three Korean women were injured in what Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia is now calling, in a reversal of previous comments, a hate-crime investigation.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI are also investigating the salon shooting, an agency spokeswoman said Monday. She declined further comment citing a pending probe.
“This area hasn’t been safe these last few weeks,” said Jannett Temples, 21, an employee at Nuri Grill, a restaurant in the Asiana Plaza shopping center adjacent to where two of three recent shootings have taken place.
The other shooting took place April 2 about 20 miles from Dallas at the China Wok. The suspect in the three shootings remains at large but has been described as a Black man driving a burgundy or dark red minivan.
Temples said the apparent randomness of the attacks and personal safety have been highly talked about among friends and co-workers, some of whom are scared to work.
“There should be more police security,” Temples said, adding that she’s concerned about leaving her shift after dark.
The hair salon attack recalled other recent acts of anti-Asian violence, including a shooting spree last year in Atlanta that claimed the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
On Sunday, one person was killed and five others were injured in a shooting at a meeting of Asian churchgoers in Southern California, authorities said.
A recent study from California State University Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism showed a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian violence from 2020 to 2021.
Some shoppers in Dallas have said that the threat of being shot has forced them to patronize businesses outside the Korean Historic District, even if they aren’t Asian American businesses, while others promise to be more careful while on the premises.
“I’m definitely going to keep an eye out,” Dallas resident Joan Villanueva, 35, said of the next time he picks up soup or sushi from the supermarket.
“I love this Korean-based area. I would hate for it to become a target of prejudice,” he said.
Danielle Nicholson, 25, who was using her computer inside a plaza coffee shop on Sunday, said she wants police to increase patrol units and respond quicker to lower the threat of hate crimes in the shopping district.
“Boosting police presence and quicker response times in Koreatown would help, but there’s no guarantee that will deter someone with a gun from coming here and committing a crime,” said Nicholson, who plans to keep dining and shopping in the area.
The Dallas Police Department has said it will add more patrol units and trailers with security cameras to areas with Asian American communities as part of an effort to boost security.
The Korean Historic District is a collection of small businesses, strip malls and plazas along a one-mile stretch of Royal Lane in North Texas. Supermarkets, plush coffee shops, chiropractors and medical offices dominate the district. But the shootings may have pushed some customers away for good.
“I’m never going to come back here. That’s what I’m telling you,” said Ahmad, a shopper at the Asiana Plaza who declined to provide his last name. “It makes me nervous. I’ll never come back here. I’m not about to get shot.”
Ung Kim, 46, a Fort Worth resident, took issue with Garcia labeling the shootings a possible hate crime, fearing it could lead to more violence against Asian Americans.
“Even if that’s what you’re investigating, why put it out there?” Kim said. “I mean, if there is an immediate danger to the community then, yeah, make an announcement. But it’s going to put people in fear."
Inside the closed hair salon where last week's shooting took place, dark red blood stained the hardwood floor. It appeared as though a bullet had punctured a glass mirror on the far side of the room. There were more traces of the shooting.
Dried blood settled on the gray couch near the front door where the suspect had entered before firing off several rounds. Magazines and notebooks resting on a small table were splattered with blood.
Just a few cars filled the parking lot of Hanmiri Plaza, where the shooting occurred, over the weekend. Only two of the six stores were open.
Employees of Massage Royal declined to comment when asked about the impact both shootings have had on business and on them personally. There were no customers at the other open business, Han’s Korean Cuisine.
“If I was a customer and some restaurant got shot up, I wouldn’t want to go there,” said a worker at the restaurant, who declined to provide his name. He said business has slowed because of the shooting, but it had to reopen despite safety concerns.
“What are we going to do? I need the income. Is somebody going to pay me to close? I already closed the day of the shooting and the following day. I can’t keep closing,” the worker said. “Of course I’m nervous. Everyone is nervous.”
Binh Pham, owner of Pho Saigon #8, a Vietnamese eatery inside the Asiana Plaza, is not among them.
“I feel safe,” he said Sunday.
And Tom Ye, a cook at Nuri Grill, said he doesn’t believe the area is exceptionally unsafe.
“I’ve lived in more dangerous places,” he said.
In Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas with an Asian population of more than 15 percent, some residents said police need to go the extra mile to protect them. They talked about increasing patrols not only in the shopping district, but anywhere else Asian Americans live and gather. Still, they acknowledged, it may not be enough to prevent future hate crimes.
There’s no straight answer for how police can stop a hate crime because they can’t change the mindset of someone who intentionally wants to commit one, said Jayden Jang, 42, who was visiting an electronics store in the strip mall where the shooting occurred. Local law enforcement have taken some steps to protect the Asian community in light of the shootings.
Young Park, 52, said police officers conducted an unexpected check of her Sunday morning church service in Carrollton as a result of the hair salon shooting.
“Four cops came over to my church this morning while we were doing service,” she said, adding that the officers made sure the church was safe and inspected the parking lot for vandalism.
Carrollton Police provided extra security at multiple churches and Korean-owned businesses Sunday, according to NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth.
Kim, the shopper who will pay more attention to his surroundings the next time he visits the shopping district, said he wants peace in the world, but also understands the world isn’t perfect. “Why can’t we all just get along?” he said.