It is time to 'invest in transformative justice that begins with cross racial dialogue and community-building,' said one expert.
Law enforcement authorities across the country are ramping up efforts to protect communities with large Asian populations after shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday night, which left eight people dead, six of them Asian women.
A 21-year-old man was arrested in connection with the shootings, which took place at Young's Asian Massage, Gold Spa, and Aromatherapy Spa. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Wednesday that the man had allegedly been planning to target similar establishments in Florida.
Authorities said the suspect claimed his actions were not racially motivated, but a witness from Gold Spa told a local Korean outlet that the man, who is white, allegedly said he was going to "kill all Asians."
The shootings come as Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the nation are already suffering from heightened anti-Asian violence, prompting local authorities to increase patrol in vulnerable areas.
The New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau tweeted that the agency is "monitoring the shooting of Asian Americans in Georgia."
"While there is no known nexus to #NYC we will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution," officials wrote.
And in Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Adrian Diaz said the city is ramping up security to protect Asian American communities and is dedicated to holding people who commit hate crimes accountable, the Seattle Times reported.
"That includes increasing outreach to the Asian American community and community-based organizations across Seattle, as well as additional presence by police patrols and our Community Service Officers to ensure we are doing all we can for them during this painful time," Durkan and Diaz said in a Tuesday statement.
Experts, however, say more needs to be done in the wake of the attacks and that more policing is not necessarily the answer.
Marina Le, an advocate for the Asian American Pacific Islander community and co-founder of the Asians Do Matter initiative to combat anti-Asian racism, called for the strengthening of laws and for lawmakers to introduce a bill to that punishes racist crimes with up to three years of jail time.
Le explained to the American Independent Foundation that the public must take up the fight against racism more broadly, in addition to combating anti-Asian hate crimes.
"Hate is hate. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere," she said. "...We need each and everyone who stands for justice and good in this world to come to support and champion to fight against racism, not just anti-Asian hate crimes."
The advocacy group Asian American Advancing Justice - Atlanta has also called on local and state officials to step up the community response.
"During this time of crisis for our AAPI community, we call on our local and state government to provide robust and responsive crisis intervention resources, including in-language support for mental health, legal, employment, and immigration services," a statement from the nonprofit said. "It is time for Georgia to invest in transformative justice that begins with cross racial dialogue and community-building that address the root causes of violence and hate."
Phi Nguyen, the group's litigation director, added, "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."
Lawmakers are also pushing for more constructive change. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) have introduced legislation to provide law enforcement with additional resources to combat violence against Asians.
And Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) tweeted Tuesday, "I'm an original cosponsor of the #COVID19 Hate Crimes Act to ensure all necessary federal and community resources are directed at ending hate crimes against #AAPI communities."
Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), meanwhile, has called for a "swift and thorough investigation" of the Atlanta-area shootings.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus will join in on a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday to address discrimination against AAPI communities and actions that need to be taken.
"I didn't think it possible, but this hearing became even more important tonight. Our community needs to feel protected, and policymakers must hear and address our concerns," said John C. Yang, executive director of the Asian American Advancing Justice at-large organization.
A March report from the group Stop AAPI Hate showed that, since Jan. 1 this year, there were over 500 hate incidents reported against Asian Americans. Anti-Asian offenses account for over 13% of all hate incidents reported since the start of the pandemic.
"The reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy — for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community — which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination," Stop AAPI Hate tweeted Tuesday evening.
"Right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed," the group added.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.