President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Georgia state Sen. Michelle Au and Asian American community leaders meeting in Atlanta on March 19. (White House photo)
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, State Senator Michelle Au, and Asian American community leaders meeting in Atlanta on March 19. (White House photo)

For some Americans, the shocking attacks and murders over a week ago by a white man in Atlanta that took the lives of eight people, six of them Asian women, provide further credence for more stringent gun control laws in the U.S. despite objections from those who point to the Second Amendment.

But even before the March 16 shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area, many who identify as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders [AAPI] had already become aware of and concerned about an increase in “hate crimes” in which they or others from their community had been victims.

Some assert that the rise in attacks, whether physical or verbal, began to escalate after former President Trump took office. Not only did Trump refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan flu” and support anti-Asian hashtags but the Biden Administration says his “damaging rhetoric” both fueled anti-Asian discrimination and “elevated threats” to the community.

Meanwhile, retail corridors around the D.C. region have been promised greater police protection and surveillance in efforts by law enforcement to keep those who own or frequent the local restaurants, hair and beauty outlets and nail salons free from attacks. Many of these businesses are owned or operated by members of the AAPI community.

At the House of China, a Chinese restaurant in Riverdale, Md., when one female clerk was asked to share her views about the recent shootings in Atlanta, she ignored this reporter and continued to take food orders. However, she did briefly say, “I don’t speak English.”

But another person at the restaurant, unwilling to share their name, said that in recent months, he’s experienced frequent harassment by local police leading him to wonder, “What should I do?”

But rather than lay the blame at Trump’s feet, consider the data compiled by national coalitions like Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that addresses anti-Asian discrimination among its goals as cited in a report March 23 in The Washington Post.

According to the organization, 3,795 self-reported incidents were filed by AAPIs between March 19, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021, in the U.S. The incidents, which ranged from name-calling and verbal assaults to physical altercations like being punched, kicked or spit upon, have inevitably been underreported, experts say. Those familiar with the AAPI community point to cultural mores which influence their members to often remain silent rather than speaking out about such violations.

“Unfortunately, the reality is Asian Americans are now scared to go outside,” said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a D.C.-based nonprofit. “You have community members who are literally thinking about whether they should appear in public at all.”

But one local politician said he refuses to be silent including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who met with local Asian business owners, along with his wife, Yumi, an immigrant from Korea, in Howard County on Monday, March 22.

The Hogans, along with Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, toured Asian-owned businesses that are part of “Korean Way” — a state-designated five-mile stretch along Route 40 that serves as home for about 166 Korean businesses.

One day earlier, Hogan said on CNN that he has witnessed the effects of discrimination against Asian Americans escalate during the coronavirus pandemic. He referred to the recent murders in Atlanta as “outrageous” and “unacceptable.”

In the District, Ben de Guzman, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, issued a statement strongly condemning the March 16 shootings “and the senseless murder of eight people, including six Asian-American women.”

And in social media posts immediately after the attacks and then later during a press briefing, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed the city’s commitment to opposing violence against the AAPI community throughout the District.

“Our office is connecting with District residents, business owners, city agencies, law enforcement, organizations, our government, and our colleagues around the country towards a common cause,” she said. “We know that the attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are a national phenomenon. Here in the nation’s capital, we are committed to addressing anti-Asian violence, racism and xenophobia.”

Hogan said the attacks have struck home in a very personal way.

“My wife, my three daughters and my grandkids are all Asian, and they — they have felt some discrimination personally,” he said. “We feel it personally with my daughter, who is sometimes afraid to come to visit us, with people who had best friends that were being harassed at the grocery store, or being called names and people yelling about the China virus, even though they’re from Korea and born in America.”

WI Editor D. Kevin McNeir contributed to this report.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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