Anti-Asian violence: Atlanta spa shootings put spotlight on racism, misogyny targeting Asians

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It was one year ago Wednesday that eight people, including six Asian American women, were killed at three Atlanta-area spas.

The deadly shootings brought attention to a surge of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, particularly women.

A year later, many Asian American women still say they still don't feel safe.

Anti-Asian violence has been widely reported since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some Chicago-area Asian Americans say crime against their people is nothing new.

"I know it is easy to conflate it with everything else going on with COVID and COVID-related hate crimes, but to me, this incident could have happened outside of the pandemic," said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

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A Georgia official faced swift backlash for pinning a shooting rampage that left eight dead at three Atlanta-area spas on a "very bad day" for the alleged gun.

Choimorrow said Asian women have been objectified for centuries in this country.

"Many of us, while we have experienced some level of racialized sexual harassment, no one thought something like this could happen," she added.

This past weekend, dozens gathered at Horner Park on Chicago's North Side to remember the victims.

Grace Pai is the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. She said for many Asian American women, the tragedy in Atlanta is a call to action. Many started sharing their stories and lobbying their elected officials to take action.

"There is a lot of fear in the Asian community and in the immigrant community to not speak up about things that you have experienced," Pai said. "So now that we're starting to see more public accounts, and more and more people speak up."

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According to a National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum survey of more than 2,400 AAPI women across the country 74% reported experiencing racism and/or discrimination over the last 12 months, 38% said they experienced sexual harassment and 12% reported experiencing gender and/or race-based physical violence.

Choimorrow said policing isn't the solution.

"In order for Asian American women to start feeling safe again, we need to make sure that people that look at me, that I walk past on the street, see me as a fellow human being and not somebody that they can objectify," Choimorrow said.

Last spring, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill making Illinois the first state to require Asian American history be taught in public schools.
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Illinois became the first state in the nation to require the teaching of Asian American History Friday morning.

"So that's something that we hope will have a really broad impact, right and making sure that students of all ages regardless of whether or not they identify as Asian American, learn about the history of Asian Americans, learn that Asian Americans are not an 'other,' that we are not perpetual foreigners, that we are Americans that we are a huge part of American history," Pai said.

Activists have also been pushing for the first-ever majority Asian ward that would include Chicago's Chinatown and Bridgeport.

"Just having people in office who have those same lived experiences, who know what it's like to have to walk home in the dark alone as an Asian woman, to understand the intersection of racism and misogyny -- I think that is something that you, it's hard to relate to if you don't identify that way," Pai said.

Although Chicago hasn't seen the attacks on Asian American women as violent as those reported in New York City or the Bay Area, Choimorrow said safety concerns of Asian American women in this city should be taken seriously.
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