Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday (March 20) in support of the Asian American community after a shooting at three local day spas this week left eight people dead, six of them Asian women.
The killings followed a year of mounting anti-Asian violence in the United States, which community leaders say is due to Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019.
Crowds of people wearing masks, waving American flags and carrying posters that read “We are not the virus” and “Stop Asian Hate” stood in front of the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol building on Saturday.
“They were mothers. They were workers. They left breathing children behind, and the fact that it took law enforcement several days to even identify some of these women speaks to the vulnerability, the invisibility and the isolation that some of these women had in their lives,” Georgia state representative Bee Nguyen said.
Many Asian Americans at the rally said they feel like “second class” citizens in the U.S. and as though crimes against them are not taken seriously.
“Even if I am Asian, I am also American…. these hate incidents [are] is not acceptable,” Sunghee Han, a resident of Georgia said.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with eight counts of homicide in Tuesday’s fatal shooting of four people at two day spas in Atlanta and four others at another spa in Cherokee County, about 40 miles (64 km) north of the state capital.
Authorities stressed they have not ruled out charging Long with hate crimes even though Long says racial bias was not his motivation.
A former Cherokee County Sheriff’s department spokesman who came under criticism for saying Long had “a really bad day” and who had previously promoted T-shirts blaming Asians for the pandemic has been reassigned, the New York Times reported.
Georgia Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats elected in January, attended the rally in support of the demonstrators and led them in a moment of silence for the victims.
“When you diminish a people’s humanity and you center other people as if they are something greater than anybody else, then you start focusing on their humanity even when they are the perpetrator…I’m not interested in whether or not he had a bad day,” Warnock said.
The shootings prompted an outpouring of grief, from the local community in Georgia to the halls of U.S. Congress. Since Tuesday, mourners have piled flower bouquets and signs, lit candles and said prayers outside the spas where the victims were killed.
On Friday (March 19), President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American community leaders in Georgia to express condolences and implore Americans to stand together against hate.
(Production: Aleksandra Michalska and Deborah Gembara)