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Edelman: Atlanta shooting endemic of rise in hate crimes toward Asian Americans, action needed to spark change | COMMENTARY

“He who kills one life kills the world entire …”

One week ago, a shooter in Atlanta destroyed eight lives. One of those lives was a 33-year-old mother of two. She took her divorced sister’s pre-teen children. Her mother, now in her 50s, will have four young children to care for. How would you feel if your daughter’s life was snuffed out by a mass murderer?

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A 63-year-old woman had been laid off because of the pandemic and was grateful to find work in one of the massage parlors the murderer had targeted. Had she been your mother, you too would be grief-stricken.

A 51-year-old single mother of two worked long hours as a masseuse to help her two struggling sons. She had been a schoolteacher in South Korea.

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The manager of one of the businesses was a 74-year-old who retired to Atlanta to be closer to her children. She loved to work, to take care of people. Who might fill the empty space in your heart at the loss of a friend?

The youngest person 21-year-old Robert Long shot dead was 33 years old; the eldest, 74. Seven were women. Six were Asian. He said he is a sex addict. He said he did it to remove temptation. Was he sexually attracted to women in their sixties and seventies? I think not. Whether or not Long has profound sexual issues, the fact is he targeted one particular group; there was a strong racial component to those he chose to victimize. Do you think that if an Asian man shot up three Hooters, he’d be afforded the excuse that it “was a really bad day for him”?

And Long’s are not the only elderly Asian victims of violence. In January, an 84-year-old Thai man was walking in his San Francisco neighborhood when a 19-year-old ran across the street, “violently shoved him” to the ground, resulting in a fatal brain hemorrhage. Across the bay in Oakland, another shoving incident targeted three Chinese, ages 91, 60, and 55. An 89-year-old Chinese woman was slapped and then set on fire in Brooklyn.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 just a year ago, the number of hate acts aimed at people of Asian and Pacific Island (AAPI) descent has gone up more than 150%. The New York Times wrote that 3,795 anti-Asian racist incidents were reported in the past year, more than two-thirds of them directed toward women. San Francisco State professor Russell Jeung suggests women are targeted because they’re viewed as “meek and subservient,” a combination of racial stereotyping and sexism.

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Not all these incidents are violent crimes. Sometimes, they’re insults like “Why the **** don’t you go back to where you came from?” A Filipino-Danish woman was jogging when a white woman screamed, “Keep away from me with your virus!” at her. Hundreds of Asian people report being spat on. Thousands of such occurrences have been reported across the country. Many thousands more are not.

Last month, on Chinese New Year’s, three Asian restaurants in Howard County were broken into. It’s no accident those robberies happened when they did. These very not-random incidents are symptoms of our society’s difficulties dealing with racism and gender discrimination. Anti-Asian discrimination is a problem hidden in plain sight, as President Biden said last Thursday.

“Words matter,” says Bel Leong-Hong, the chair of the DNC Asian American and Pacific Islanders caucus. It’s impossible to separate the spike in racial slurs and crimes of violence against Asian Americans from the former president’s verbal abuse: “Chy-na virus” and “Kung-Flu.”

But this isn’t only about politics or strained American-Chinese relations. It’s about who we are as people and implicit bias taking the form that Americans of Asian descent can never be “American enough.”

Amanda Nyugen, founder of the civil rights organization Rise, attributes the increase to the widespread omission of Asian Americans from cultural conversations. Unless crimes rise to the level of mass-murder, they are under-reported and mostly ignored by the media. She notes that several federal agencies don’t even include AAPI groups as racial minorities. Scapegoating of Asian Americans flies under the radar of most Americans.

Hate crimes have been on the rise. Last year was the worst since 2008, according to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics report — but we cannot respond to a problem we don’t see. Events such as the Atlanta shootings spike awareness and street protests, but changes in how minorities are treated won’t come without persistent committed action in schools, places of worship, on news and in social media.

“… and he who saves one life saves the world entire.” We do not have the luxury of waiting for the next mass murder to act.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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