Less than a year after the killing of a black man in Minnesota, which sparked massive anti-racism protests across the United States, a worrying trend of racially motivated attacks against Asian-Americans seems to be creeping into major cities.
The latest attack in Atlanta on Wednesday, in which eight people — most of them Asian-American women — were shot dead by a white gunman, is not the first against the community, which has been sounding alarm bells about the trend for some time.
The Atlanta authorities charged the gunman, Robert Aaron Long, 21, with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the shootings at three spas. The police said Long had told the police he was driving to Florida when he was caught after the shootings and that he said he may have been trying to commit similar violence at a business connected to the “porn industry” there. He was stopped after his parents alerted the police that they believed their son might be the suspect, and the police were able to track his phone.
Rodney Bryant, the acting chief of the Atlanta Police Department, said it was “not yet clear” whether the shooting spree would be classified as a hate crime. But all evidence shows that it was. Racist tendencies against Asian-Americans have been visible for decades, however, the attacks and harassment have surged during the coronavirus pandemic. The anti-China rhetoric of the Trump administration — referring to Covid-19 as the ‘China Virus’ — is always cited one of the reasons behind the surge in racist attacks against Asian-Americans. According to CNN, between March and December of 2020, 2,808 complaints were reported to Stop AAPI Hate Organisation, which tracks racist attacks and harassment against Asian-Americans. The group says 8.7 per cent of the incidents involved physical assaults and 71 per cent verbal harassment.
President Joe Biden repeatedly and strongly condemned the anti-Asian American attacks. Nevertheless, that is not enough to prevent the dangerously rising crimes against the community. The Atlanta police’s hesitation to classify the shooting as a hate crime will deter the victims from coming forward. A police official in the city was quoted by the media as saying the white gunman seemed to have “had a bad day”. That is an outrageous statement that trivialises this heinous racially-motivated cold-blooded murder of eight people.
Institutional reforms are needed in the security and prosecution bodies in major cities that aim to keep this vulnerable society safe, just like the measures taken by many police departments in the US following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Asian Lives Matter too. And they must be protected on institutional level.