ATLANTA – Hundreds of people gathered near the Georgia State Capitol Saturday to rally and march against anti-Asian violence in the wake of shootings that killed eight people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors and spas Tuesday.
The victims, of whom six were women of Asian descent, were mourned by a lineup of speakers at Liberty Plaza that included both of Georgia’s US Senators and Asian American members of the state Legislature.
“This was an attack on the Asian community,” said State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, the first Vietnamese American elected to the Georgia General Assembly.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., emphasized the importance of standing in solidarity with the Asian American community, and criticized a Cherokee County sheriff’s office spokesman who described the gunman, a white man, as having a “bad day”.
“I’m not interested in whether or not he had a bad day,” Warnock said. “That kind of speech comes when you don’t see the humanity of a people.”
The deadly shootings crystalized for many the rise in discrimination against Asian Americans seen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. According to an analysis conducted by California State University-San Bernardino, hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by almost 150% in 2020 across major US cities.
But many Asian Americans are saying that the discrimination is not a new phenomenon that emerged suddenly during the pandemic. Gina Kang, an Atlantan who marched at the Capitol Saturday, said that anti-Asian racism can be traced all throughout US history, and that better education about that history is the key to reversing the troubling hate crimes trend.
“We are people with our own history, with our own struggles,” Kang said. “And we deserve to be here as much as everyone else.”
The “invisibility” of the struggles facing the Asian American community was a common theme among speakers at the rally. Faming Li, a metro-Atlantan who attended Saturday’s events, said that people in his community had traditionally remained quiet about the discrimination they faced, but that the shootings made it clear that the time is now to speak up and demand change.
“Asian Americans are just Americans,” Li said. “We love this country, and we have made this our home. We are a part of America.”
Following the rally, hundreds of sign-carrying demonstrators marched from the Capitol to State Farm Arena as cheers and car horns erupted from the streets in support. The event was the latest in a week that has seen vigils, both virtual and in-person, across the state and country as the nation reeled from the shootings.
The shootings come less than a year after Georgia enacted its historic hate crimes law in 2020. It remains unclear if the man accused of the killings will be prosecuted under the scope of that law, and he has thus far claimed that he was motivated by issues with a “sex addiction” and not race. But many Asian American leaders, including those at the Saturday rally, have been quick to say that the sexualization of Asian women plays a major role in the discrimination and dehumanization they face, and that the race and gender of the victims cannot be ignored.
The event comes one day after President Biden and Vice President Harris visited with Asian American leaders in Atlanta. State Sen. Sheik Rahman, D-Lawerenceville, the first Asian American to serve in the state Senate, praised the administration for listening to local leaders, but emphasized that no one person could solve this problem and that the country as a whole would have to make drastic changes.
“I cannot do it. You cannot do it,” Rahman said. “But all of us together, we can do it.”