While the motive behind the suspect’s actions are yet to be officially determined by law enforcement, many around the nation have pointed out that six of the eight people killed were Asian women, in a time when hateful rhetoric toward Asian Americans has skyrocketed.
Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant explained, “I know that we’ve received a number of calls [asking] ‘is this a hate crime?’ We are still early in this investigation.”
Regardless of the motive, and whether or not the suspected shooter was fueled by hate against Asians, President Joe Biden pointed out it’s still a heartbreaking and dangerous time in America to identify as an Asian American, and that solidarity and action are necessary.
“Whatever the motivation here,” Biden said, “I know that Asian Americans are very concerned because, as you know, I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple of months.”
The news was especially heartbreaking for activists in New York City who’ve spent the last year sounding an urgent alarm over the rise in violence against their community.
“I was just hit with a wall of emotion; I started crying,” Joo Han told PIX11 News.
Han is the deputy director of the Asian American Federation.
“I just thought, I don’t know if my parents are going to be safe; some of the victims were Korean women in their 60s who are the demographics of my mom,” she said.
Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng said Wednesday said recent rhetoric has fueled the fear — as hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers has increased specifically.
“Especially since our former president used terms like ‘kung flu’ and the ‘Chinese virus,’ people have been afraid to go out,” Meng said.
Another local leader put the fear of the last year bluntly.
“For the past year, I’ve found myself numerous times asking ‘I don’t know what’s going to kill me first COVID or racism,'” former Queens Borough President Sharon Lee said.
In the wake of the Georgia murders, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “a major deployment of NYPD counterterrorism forces in communities around the city, including some of the most prominent Asian communities.”
Han cautioned that seeing more police officers may not automatically help residents feel safer.
“There are undocumented people in our community; that is not safe to them to have more police presence,” Han said.
Meng said she believes one of the best ways to push back against Asian hate is by raising awareness.
“I feel like for the first time in my life,” she said, “the mainstream communities are finally paying attention to what’s happening to Asian Americans.”
Similar feelings were shared at a candlelight vigil in what’s fittingly known as “Diversity Plaza” in Jackson Heights, Queens Wednesday night.
“It’s time to stand up, we need support and love, not hate,” said Wei Lai, who attended with her 5-year-old daughter, Sally.
“We have to stand together… root out hate in our Asian American community,” said community activist Shekar Krishnan, who is running for Jackson Heights’ city council seat. He organized the rally and vigil.
Correction: The name of the location of the vigil has been corrected.