Amid a horrific surge in targeted harassment and hate crimes against Asian Americans, eight people, including six Asian women, were murdered by a 21-year-old white man who has said to police that he was motivated to kill to curb his "sexual addiction." Although some officials have declined to label the Tuesday attack as a racist hate crime, Georgia State Rep. Bee Nguyen said it best: "It doesn’t require admission of a hate crime by the suspect to determine if this is, in fact, a hate crime."
According to Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, shooter Robert Aaron Long "wanted to eliminate" the "temptation" that the spas represented. But the compounding factors of racism, misogyny, and the harmful hypersexualization of Asian women are what led Long to violently attack three Asian businesses and kill mostly Asian women when he was having what Baker described as "a bad day." (It also cannot be overlooked that Baker himself has a history of promoting racist, anti-Asian rhetoric.)
Tuesday's attack was not an isolated incident. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — more specifically, since the start of racist theories that Chinese people are responsible for the COVID-19 virus — the U.S. has seen a sharp uptick in harassment, discrimination, and violence targeting Asian Americans. According to a California State University study, hate crimes against Asian people increased by 150% in 2020. Just this week, there were also two reported attacks in San Francisco, days after a 75-year-old man, Pak Ho, was punched and killed in Oakland's Chinatown.
"I warned him not to go to Chinatown, and I asked him if he had seen the news," Ho's care manager, who wished to remain anonymous, told ABC7 News. "He said he didn't watch television and I warned him that elderly Asian people were being targeted."
San Francisco Mayor London Breed responded to the attacks in California — and across the country — by announcing that the city is ramping up police patrolling in predominantly Asian neighborhoods. "Now we need to understand what was going on and why those attacks occurred because in some cases, they didn't include any robbery or theft," Breed said on Wednesday. "But how do we get to the root causes of what's happening and make change?"
Law enforcement officials in other cities are also stepping in. A spokesperson from the New York Police Department told Refinery29 in a statement that the NYPD's Critical Response Command had been "deployed to Asian communities throughout New York City." The Los Angeles Police Department also announced in a statement that it would be deploying patrol officers and Senior Lead Officers to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. In addition, the department also described "a community-led approach in which leadership within the AAPI community have increasingly brought awareness to the LAPD and taken on a greater role of identifying issues, outreach, and education within their own communities."
Seattle's officials are taking a similar approach. "Our Asian American neighbors, places of worship, and businesses have been deliberately targeted by racism, xenophobia, and acts of violence related to misconceptions of COVID-19," wrote Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz in a joint statement, adding that the city would be taking steps to protect Asian Americans by "increasing outreach to the Asian American community and community-based organizations across Seattle," and also increasing police patrols "to ensure we are doing all we can."
But many people have stated that America's police, who have also often and historically perpetrated violence and racism, will not solve the problem. The NYPD created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force in August, which has been denounced by groups including the Asian American Feminist Collective, citing a study from the 90s that proved nearly half of New York City's documented incidents of anti-Asian violence were perpetrated by the police.
"We must invest in long-term solutions that address the root causes of violence and hate in our communities," wrote the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) in a statement co-signed by hundreds of organizations. "We reject increased police presence or carceral solutions as the answers."
Anne Oredeko, the supervising attorney for Legal Aid's racial justice unit, told The New York Times that increased policing will also target specific communities. "I've rarely seen people who are more socially privileged be the ones accused of hate crimes," Oredeko said. "Often what you end up seeing is people of color being accused of hate crimes."
Statistics back this up. Even though the NYPD's Hate Crime Task Force reported at least 10 suspected anti-Asian hate crimes so far in 2021, only one New Yorker has actually been prosecuted for such a crime, according to The New York Times: a Taiwanese man who allegedly wrote anti-Chinese graffiti outside businesses in Queens.
So, what else can be done beyond policing? California Rep. Judy Chu said that she has called for a passage of legislation — the NO HATE Act — to improve reporting on hate crimes, and also a national day devoted to speaking out against Asian American hate. "It's clear the individuals [in Atlanta] were targeted because they are amongst the most vulnerable in our country: immigrant Asian women," Chu said. Another legislation, Rep. Grace Meng's COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, would expand access to education, resources, and data related to hate crimes.
According to the AAAJ, right now, other priorities should include in-language support for legal, professional, immigration, and mental health resources. "During this time of broader crisis and trauma in our Asian American communities, we must be guided by a compass of community care that prioritizes assessing and addressing our communities' immediate needs," wrote the organization.