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Asian Americans were already living in fear. The Atlanta-area spa killings feel like a terrifying escalation for them

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Many Asian Americans in the United States have been verbally harassed, spat upon, and wounded for months in a “disgusting pattern of hatred” that coincides with the Covid-19 pandemic. The killings of eight people, most of them Asian, in three spas in the Atlanta area, shook a community that was already nearby on Tuesday, although law enforcement has not yet determined any reason.

“We don’t know if this incident has a racial motivation, but we need to understand the deep fear our community is experiencing,” said Cynthia Choi, one of the co-founders of Atura AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“At this time, if there is no evidence, we cannot rule it out either because Covid (19) was racialized, because most of the victims were Asian women,” Choi added.

The shootings in the Atlanta area left the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community across the country in mourning and feeling it was a devastating escalation to the violence that has become increasingly familiar to them.

“I think that took him to another extreme,” said Hanna Kim, a professor in Novi, Michigan.

Kim, a 24-year-old Korean American, said she often felt she had a target on her back. Last year, a parent wanted to take one of his students out of second grade because Kim was Asian.

“Will people tell me things?” Kim said she often wonders to herself. “Will people avoid me because they think for some reason I’ll be the one to spread the virus?”

“Palpable fear” in Atlanta after the shootings

Advocates and members of the AAPI community have said they have made changes to their daily routines as a precaution. In a survey conducted by the Florida State University last year, more than half of Asian American respondents said they chose to avoid certain places, observe their surroundings, and be careful with the language and wording they used.

Hours before the shootings, Stop AAPI Hate had released its latest data on the number of first-hand complaints they have received. The report was part of an effort to renew its call for concrete action against bigotry and discrimination.

Since March 19 last year, the group has received a total of 3,292 complaints from all 50 states and Washington, DC. In the past two months, at least 503 anti-Asian hate incidents have been reported, the group said.

The majority of incidents (around 68%) were cases of verbal harassment, while avoiding or avoiding accounted for approximately 20.5%. Approximately 11% of incidents involved physical assaults, according to Stop AAPI Hate.

On the streets of Atlanta and the United States, many people shared this week with CNN how their lives have been affected by anti-Asian sentiment.

Some said they were blamed for the Covid-19 pandemic and were called insults while waiting for a bus in Baltimore, caring for their patients in San Francisco, walking in Colorado Park, working on a Japanese food truck in Las Vegas. Vegas and they bought groceries. in Oregon. They are also identified as Filipinos, Chinese or Koreans.

State Representative Sam Park, who was the first Asian-American Democrat elected to the Georgia State House in 2016, said there is “palpable fear and anxiety” in the Atlanta area after the shootings.

“Regardless of whether he was motivated by race, it was an attack on Asian American women, on members of our community, and of course we want to do everything we can to protect everyone,” Park told CNN.

A growing Asian community

Across the Atlanta metropolitan area, the Asian American and Pacific Islander population has grown significantly in recent years, reflecting the trend of the growing and diversifying population across the state.

During the presidential and Senate elections, AAPIs were a key part of the campaign strategy. Although AAPIs are a small part of the electorate in Georgia, the number of Asian American voters it grew seven times as well as other racial and ethnic groups combined in the state.

The Asian Pacific National Forum of American Women said some of its members in Atlanta were concerned about the safety of their families, including those who work in salons.

“We are appalled and devastated by the violence in Georgia that has caused eight lives, six of whom were Asian American women. We mourn the families of these victims. We are horrified and continue to be concerned for the safety of community members in the country. as violence against Asian Americans has intensified, “Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement.

For the first time, Esther Kim said she is afraid to travel home to Georgia for Easter to visit her parents. The Wheaton College student in Illinois said for hours she has been facing a feeling of fear combined with sadness and even anger.

“The victims of the shootings are actually pretty close to my mother’s age and my mother is Korean, just like the victims were. It becomes so real,” Kim said.

Raymond Chang, a Korean American who is a minister on the Wheaton College campus, said he broke down in tears during a prayer vigil on Wednesday, thinking about how some of his students could have been injured as victims. .

“The fact that the women who died in Atlanta were Korean broke my heart because I saw the connections. They could have been them if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Chang said.

In recent months, advocates, actors and officials have come together to denounce the violence following a series of attacks in California and New York that left serious injuries and some people dead.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has previously spoken about the racism she and her relatives have faced in this country, said the shootings have “scared” everyone.

“(K) As we grow the level of hate crimes against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak in solidarity with them and recognize that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hatred.” Harris said during a bilateral meeting with Irish officials commemorating St. Patrick’s Day.

Last week, President Joe Biden addressed the nation on the one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown. During his speech, he condemned the hatred and discrimination that Asian Americans have faced.

CNN’s Natasha Chen, Nicquel Terry Ellis, Madeline Holcombe and Priya Krishnakumar contributed to this report.

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