Three beauty salons. Eight people dead. Six of them, Asian women.
Last Tuesday, March 16, Americans received the harrowing news that a lone gunman carried out a series of attacks at three different spas in Cherokee County and Atlanta, Georgia, fatally shooting eight victims and critically injuring one.
The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, has been taken into custody, charged with aggravated assault and currently faces eight counts of murder in both Cherokee County and Atlanta.
While authorities are still investigating whether the incident was a hate crime, the fact that most of the victims belonged to the Asian-American community adds to an increasingly serious issue in the U.S. and abroad. Perpetrators of the hate incidents wrongly attribute the spreading of COVID-19 to an entire racial group.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit organization which keeps track of hate incidents towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., there have been 3,795 Asian American hate incidents in the U.S. between March 19 to February 28, 2021. These incidents include the pushing of an Asian elderly woman onto Brooklyn’s subway tracks, the verbal harassment of a 36-year-old Asian man as he ate his lunch, and the dragging of an Asian woman by a car when her purse was violently stolen.
Unfortunately, the attacks have also hit close to home. Last month, four Asian-owned restaurants, Kung Fu Tea, Bonchon, and Urban Hot Pot in the Columbia Mall as well as Asian Bistro in Ellicott City were among six restaurants that were broken into and looted in Howard County, Maryland. Despite the fact that not all of the businesses vandalized were Asian-owned, the night that the vandalism occurred coincided with the start of Lunar New Year, moving racism higher on the list of suspected motives.
“We are deeply saddened that during these difficult times our community is filled with such hatred and division. As an Asian American establishment, the fact that these attacks came on Lunar New Year, such a celebrated time of year for us, is heartbreaking,” wrote both Bonchon and Kung Fu Tea in Instagram posts the morning after the attack.
With the Columbia Mall just five minutes away from campus, Howard Community College students were shocked to hear that some of their most beloved restaurants, always ready with delicious Boba Tea and a warm smile, could be subject to such hate-filled incidents.
Sophie Kohn, who is in her second semester at HCC, concurs.
“It was horrible and really opened my eyes to the hate that still exists even in Columbia, Maryland which is known for its diversity” explained Kohn. “I have lived in this community for most of my life and [have] been going to this area for as long as I can remember… it’s heartbreaking to see these attacks on all of these Asian-owned restaurants. It’s especially heartbreaking to see this racism and xenophobia when it’s in your own community and it needs to change.”
But for HCC Student Mai Vo, who is Vietnamese, the uptick in racism towards Asian Americans, is all too familiar. Though she has experienced micro-aggressions due to her race before, Vo agrees that incidents, like stares and unkind remarks, have increased for her in the last year.
“In March when COVID-19 first [began], I went to work and one of the ladies walked over and asked if I was Chinese. I felt very offended by her question, so I didn’t answer it,” Vo explained. “Coronavirus doesn’t just affect a part of the community, but everyone including the Asian community, so why not just help each other get over with this tough time but blaming them for it. ”
Thankfully, individuals and authorities across the U.S. are speaking out and standing with the Asian American Community. Days after the Georgia shootings, supporters rallied with signs and chants at Georgia’s State Capital, in New York City, San Francisco and other cities across the nation. Flags on federal grounds, including the White House, have been flown at half-staff by order of the President Biden.
The President and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian American leaders of Georgia to show their support. Celebrities, like actresses Sandra Oh and Lana Condor, have taken to Twitter and Instagram to voice their support. Congress led a hearing in which experts, lawmakers, and advocates discussed the crucial role that rhetoric used by political figures has played in the rise of discrimination towards the Asian Community.
In a statement to campus faculty last Thursday, HCC President, Dr. Kathleen Heatherington wrote that “Howard Community College is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and racist incidents of any kind against our Asian American and Pacific Islander students, faculty, and staff will not be tolerated. Howard Community College must ensure that our institution is a safe and supportive learning environment, and it will take all of us working together to continue to uphold this value today and into the future.” She further said in regards to students who need support “please tell them that the college offers tele-counseling appointments by calling and leaving a message at 443-518-1340 (the call will be returned within 24 hours).”
Dr. Heatherington also announced that this Thursday, March 25th, from 4-5pm HCC will be hosting a Virtual antiracism event in which students and staff will have a safe space to discuss “their feelings about the increase in violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.” Students can use the following link to register: https://howardcc.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAtcOCqrjkrHtbFhYlHlKXwsxXYW7NjGRVv
For those wondering how they can support the Asian community, Mai Vo’s message is simple, yet eloquent. She urges the community to “stand up for your rights and what you think is right because we live in America where we have the freedom to fight for our justice.”
This story was originally published on HCC Times on March 23, 2021.