Sadness, anger and fear were coursing on Wednesday through Stephanie Cho, a day after a gunman’s attack on spas in the Atlanta area killed eight people — most of whom were Asian women.
Police have said suspect Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, has so far denied a racist motive for the three shootings in the southern US state of Georgia.
But Cho, the executive director of advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, fiercely disagreed.
“White supremacy is literally killing us,” she said amid a spike in violence targeting Asian-Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Violence against Asian communities has been under the radar… for many years,” she said adding that despite her pain over the shootings, she also feels “resilience.”
Bouquets of flowers were laid Wednesday in front of the doors of two of the targeted spas, located across the street from each other in northeast Atlanta, where four of the victims were killed and one man wounded.
At Aromatherapy Spa, where one woman was killed, the “Open” and “Welcome” signs were still lit.
And at Gold Spa, in a brick building across the street where three women were killed, a scrolling marquee still advertised jacuzzi and sauna services — available seven days a week.
It was at another spa, Young’s Asian Massage, in an Atlanta suburb, that four other people were killed and two wounded in a shooting only hours earlier.
– ‘A hate crime against Asian Americans’ –
The manager of Studio 219 Ink tattoo shop, Anthony Smith, told AFP in the five years he has been in the area near the Gold and Aromatherapy spas he has never seen the kind of violence that befell the neighborhood Tuesday night.
Police said suspect Long told them he had a sex addiction and wanted to “eliminate” a “temptation”, but denied that the attacks were racist.
The violence comes at a time of extreme tension for the Asian American community.
The number of attacks and hate crimes against Asian Americans has exploded since the beginning of the pandemic, according to anti-extremism groups.
Activists lay some of the blame for that increase at the feet of former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus”.
“It’s a bit scary,” Sam, a 20-year-old of Chinese origin who did not want to give his full name, told AFP in Atlanta, where he works at a smoothie bar.
“Before it did not really affect me, but now that they are targeting Asians, it’s scary,” he said. “We should take security measure, for self-defense.”
Georgia residents of Asian origin make up about 4.1 percent of the state’s population, or about 500,000 people, most of them Korean or of Korean descent.
For Sarah Park, president of the Korean American Coalition – Metro Atlanta, the racism involved in the spa attacks is clear.
“Yes it is a hate crime against Asian Americans,” she said, criticizing what she sees as authorities’ reluctance to go after violence that targets women working for low wages and who often speak little to no English.
“We have a right to protect our community and they will protected if everybody do their parts,” she said.