Local News

NC Asian-Americans call Atlanta shootings a hate crime

Posted March 17, 2021 5:17 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2021 8:36 p.m. EDT

— The shooting spree in the Atlanta area Tuesday night that left eight people dead, including six Asian-American women, has rattled the Asian-American community nationwide.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, told police that the attack wasn't racially motivated. Instead, he claims to have a “sex addiction” and lashed out at massage parlors, viewing them as sources of temptation, police said.

But several Asian-Americans in North Carolina said Long's motive is irrelevant, calling the shootings a hate crime. They note the Asian-American community has been targets of hate crimes for years, including being blamed for the coronavirus pandemic over the last year.

"I had taken a sick day back last year ... and when I returned to work, someone sprayed me with Lysol," said Tiffany Lam-Balfour, of Greensboro. "I found out later, it wasn't any racially motivated issue. They just thought it was funny."

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing discrimination against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, documented nearly 3,800 racially motivated incidents against members of their communities in the past year, including verbal harassment, physical assaults and discrimination in workplaces, restaurants and stores.

"This is not new violence. This is something that has happened over centuries," said Phian Tran, community engagement director for North Carolina Asian Americans Together. "When we look at the history of violence against Asian folks, even over the last few centuries, much of it was sexual violence, fetishization of the women in our communities. So, if anything, the fact this was sexually motivated does make this even more so a hate crime."

Cary mental health professional Jeanie Chang said she believes recent hate crimes against Asian-Americans have started an important national conversation that is long overdue.

"That, to me, is a positive where we're addressing stigma," Chang said. "It had to take tragedy. So, I'm not downplaying that, but the fact that we're finally addressing some of the systemic issues in our culture, as a community, as a whole [is crucial]. I've never seen us connected like this ever in my life, to be honest."

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders account for only 3 percent of North Carolina's population – it's about 7.5 percent in Wake County – but the number continues to grow as people move to the Triangle for school and work.

Chang said the key is to keep having the conversations as a community and discussing how everyone can join together to fight hate crimes.

Lam-Balfour noted that volunteers in San Francisco now walk elderly Asian-Americans home when they go out so they don’t have to fear violence.

"If you hear someone or you see someone being targeted, just try to help out and maybe support them [or] say something," she said.

North Carolina Asian Americans Together organization and the Asian American Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill planned to hold a virtual vigil for those killed in Georgia at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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