GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Learning about the deaths of eight women in the Atlanta area Tuesday night was painful for Shuqiao Chen. A white gunman traveled to three different massage parlors, and shot and killed each of them. Six of the victims were Asian. The deadly shootings added to the rise of anti-Asian attacks she’d been seeing since the beginning of the pandemic.
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“First of all I want to say as an Asian American community leader I strongly condemn the anti-Asian violence,” Chen said, who’s president of the Chinese Association of West Michigan. “This is violence, and the senseless murders that happened yesterday--my heart goes to the family and the friends of those who are affected.”
Not long after the shooting spree, police arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long. The following day he was charged with eight counts of murder. Wednesday night, "Stop Asian Hate" vigils were held in various cities.
“This mass shooting is overwhelming,” said Ace Marasign, executive director of the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation. “I was succumbed to emotions yesterday thinking about how would I explain this to my little 7-year-old boy.”
Georgia law enforcement said that Long told them he had a "sex addiction" and saw the women as “temptation” but it wasn’t “racially motivated.”
“If it was not racially motivated, then why would he target three Asian-owned--three Asian businesses?” Marasign said. “So, we need to call it what it is. To me, it’s racially motivated. And, we need to give people justice. This thing is not a random act of violence but this is an act of hate.”
According to a study conducted by California State University San Bernardino, hate crimes in total dropped 7 percent last year. However, hate crimes against Asians skyrocketed to 150 percent in 16 U.S. cities last year.
“All of this is not acceptable. We must stop. We must work together and come together to stop these hate crimes,” Chen said. “They’re not just crimes against Asian Americans. They are against humanity.”
Chen said even though hate crimes aren’t prevalent in West Michigan, members of her organization have reported experiencing racism recently.
“We have some members mention when they wear masks to the grocery store and they got some harassment,” Chen said. “Some people just recently said in our community when they went for the vaccine, they saw some people in front of them with some t-shirt with some kind of language that was just not right.”
Cle Jackson, president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, said they believe a lot of the violence and hatred stems from the rhetoric of the Trump administration. The former president and certain media outlets, he said, often referred to the coronavirus as “kung flu” or the “China virus.”
“We have all been impacted by the coronavirus. So, the coronavirus does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity,” Jackson said. “It is deplorable and despicable that you have individuals out here who are attacking our brothers and sisters in the Asian American community.”
Jackson said moving forward, it’s important that all communities stand shoulder to shoulder with Asian Americans to combat racism.
Chen and Marasign echoed the same sentiment, that active participation is needed to stop the attacks.
“If you see something, really speak up,” Chen reiterated. “Help.”