Across the US, Asian-Americans are reeling at the news of a shooting spree at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday night that left eight people dead, including six Asian women.
Police have detained a suspect, described as a 21-year-old white male, who has told them he has a sex addiction, leading them to think the attacks may not have had a racial motivation.
But after a year in which reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed, the shootings are sparking fresh outrage and fear, as well as demands for a government response.
“We’re besieged,” said Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University and a founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that has tracked anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. “The community is traumatised.”
Robert Aaron Long, the suspect charged with eight counts of murder after the Tuesday shootings, had been in rehab for sex addiction and had felt guilty about his sexual urges, two people who lived with him in transitional housing told USA Today.
In a report released on Tuesday before the shooting, Stop AAPI Hate said it received nearly 4,000 reports of hate incidents between March 2020 and February 2021. The majority of the discrimination consisted of verbal harassment, with women reporting incidents about twice as often as men.
A study published earlier this month by the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism, a nonpartisan research centre, showed that reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 major US cities rose by 150% from 2019 to 2020, while overall hate crimes dropped by 7% in the same time period.
Analysts say the surge is largely the result of Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, China.
Former president Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus” and “kung flu,” which many claim inflamed anti-Asian sentiment.
A February Reuters/Ipsos poll of 4,430 Americans showed that 37% believed that Covid-19 was created in a lab in China, including 24% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.
Researchers are still trying to identify the origins of the virus, but there is no credible evidence that it was accidentally released from a Chinese lab.
Asian-American leaders on Wednesday called for government officials to do more to protect and support their communities, and the hashtag #StopAsianHate circulated widely on social media.
“Asian Americans are afraid to leave their homes, and not just because of disease. They’re afraid to leave their homes because there’s a real risk that you’ll be blamed for a global pandemic and that people will come after you,” said Frank Wu, the president of Queens College, City University of New York, who studies anti-Asian discrimination in the United States.
Almost half of the anti-Asian hate incidents recorded by Stop AAPI Hate occurred in California, where Asian Americans make up around 15% of the population.
Ronald Lisam, a 45-year-old Chinese-American who was grocery shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Wednesday, said he has started to question his safety in public.
He told Reuters, “Every day I’m worried about being attacked, robbed, and assaulted.”