Atlanta spa shooting victims remembered in vigil denouncing anti-Asian violence
Detroit — Metro Detroit residents, community organizers and local and national officials gathered Wednesday at Hart Plaza to denounce anti-Asian violence and honor the victims of the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings.
Organized by the Michigan chapter of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, the vigil was held on the one-year anniversary of the killing of eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, in Georgia. Robert Aaron Long, 21 at the time, pleaded guilty to four of the killings in July.
The event also commemorated Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American Oak Park resident who was killed in Highland Park in 1982 by two White auto industry workers who witnesses said hurled anti-Asian slurs at him during an argument before his death. Outrage over Chin's killing and the aftermath sparked a state and national movement for civil rights.
"We gather here today to honor (the victims) and let their families and other survivors know we are still grieving with them," said Rebeka Islam, executive director of APIA Vote in Michigan.
The March 16, 2021 shootings in Atlanta reflected an uptick in violence against Asian Americans recorded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Islam said.
From March 2020 through the end of 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received reports of 10,905 hate incidents against members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. About 62% of incidents were reported by women.
"Crimes of hate are not dying down, they’re ramping up," said Islam, before listing four such incidents in New York in recent months, including Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed to her death in front of a moving subway train in January.
Telling victims' stories, investing resources to support their families and creating safe spaces for people of color through strict anti-hate legislation are some of the ways Islam said the crimes can be tackled.
Ambassador Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative and the first Asian-American woman to serve in the position, attended the vigil Wednesday during a visit to Detroit to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement.
She said violence and bigotry has had a "constant" presence against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic.
"These acts of violence across multiple generations are a reminder that anti-Asian hate is not new," said Tai. "It is the source of deep anxiety and pain that keeps many of us up at night in fear … for ourselves, our parents, our neighbors, and our loved ones."
She said the Biden-Harris Administration had placed racial and gender equity at the center of its agenda and pointed to the establishment of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which she co-chairs, as an example of the steps the administration has taken to advance opportunities for these communities.
Tai told The Detroit News it was important to address the link between increased competitive economic tensions between the U.S. and countries in Asia and the uptick in anti-Asian violence in the country, comparing the killing of Chin 40 years ago to the Atlanta shootings in 2021.
Chin's death coincided with the American auto industry dealing with increased competition from Japanese cars and mass layoffs happening across the country, according to NPR. One of the White men accused was a foreman at Chrysler, and his stepson was a recently laid-off auto worker.
In the context of combating hate crimes and protecting the economic interests of Americans, Tai said "It is really, really important for us to take on the serious competitive challenges, and to address them soberly on the basis of facts." She also stressed the need for the country "to invest in ourselves."
The Biden administration released a statement Wednesday commemorating the Atlanta shooting victims, saying the community had "shown extraordinary resilience in the face of tragedy."
“These horrific murders shook communities across America and underscored how far we have to go in this country to fight racism, misogyny, and all forms of hate — and the epidemic of gun violence that enables these extremists,” Biden said in the statement.
Regina Tsang, field director for Rising Voices, an organization that works to develop the leadership of Asian American women in Michigan, said anti-Asian and other racially-motivated hate crimes are symptoms of a broader problem
"We understand the pain, the fear that motivates our communities to call for increased policing," said Tsang. "But more surveillance and more policing is not the answer; multiracial solidarity is.
"The realization that we're all fighting the same system of White supremacy is the answer. Showing up, doing the work, fighting for all marginalized communities is the answer."