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More than 3,800 reports of anti-Asian discrimination or bias have been reported over the last year.
A shooting spree in the Atlanta region that left eight people dead Tuesday, including six people of Asian descent, has sparked renewed concern about the nationwide rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans.
Incidents of anti-Asian bias and discrimination have been on the rise over the course of the coronavirus pandemic and stoked fear among Asian American communities in cities across the United States. The national coalition Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate has received nearly 3,800 reports of anti-Asian incidents since mid-March of 2020, when cities in the United States first initiated pandemic-related lockdowns.
“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,” the group said in a statement issued Tuesday night.
Georgia authorities said a lone gunman travelled to three separate massage parlors in the Atlanta region where he shot and killed a total of eight people. Six of the victims were of Asian descent and all but one were women.
Law enforcement officials said the suspected gunman, who was arrested Tuesday night, had confessed to the shootings but claimed that he did not target the victims because of their race. Instead, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long told officials he had “a sexual addiction” and saw the massage parlors as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” said Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities said they were still investigating the suspect’s motivations as well as whether the killings would be classified as hate crimes.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms acknowledged the impact of the attacks on the area’s Asian American community and said the city would work to provide resources as necessary.
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know many of the victims were Asian,” Lance Bottoms said in a news conference Wednesday. “We also know this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful, it has to stop.”
The Atlanta chapter of the civil rights group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, called on the city to provide robust and responsive crisis intervention resources to those affected by the violence and to engage in community-building efforts that “address the root causes of violence and hate.”
Police departments in cities across the country, from New York City to San Francisco to Seattle, were stepping up patrols or conducting additional outreach in Asian American communities in the wake of Tuesday’s killings.
The shootings come as state, local and federal lawmakers are working to tamp down violence targeting Asian Americans. Some blame the rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump— who as recently as Tuesday night referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus”—for fanning racist ideologies and exacerbating discrimination.
The infectious respiratory disease emerged in Wuhan, China in November before spreading to other countries including the United States. Federal law enforcement warned at the outset of the pandemic that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans were likely to increase amid the outbreak because some Americans were associating the spread of Covid-19 with China and, therefore, the Asian-American population.
On the local level, cities have sought to improve reporting of hate crimes by strengthening relationships between police and Asian American communities.
New York City, which formed a Covid-19 response team last year, recently launched a toolkit that allows people to report hate crimes online. In Oakland, California, volunteers began escorting elderly Asian Americans on walks and errands after a series of attacks on older residents.
California recently awarded $1.4 million in funding to Stop AAPI Hate and the University of California, Los Angeles to support ongoing research and community programs that address rising anti-Asian incidents and the broader impact of Covid-19 on the Asian American community.
In Congress, the House Committee on the Judiciary is set to hold a hearing Thursday on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans.
Congressional lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would help the U.S. Department of Justice better track hate crimes related to Covid-19. The bill would also direct DOJ to provide guidance to state and local law enforcement on how to establish online hate crime reporting systems and how to expand “culturally competent and linguistically appropriate” public education campaigns.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.