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Dozens gather outside Ellicott City church to condemn racism against Asians following Atlanta shootings

Asian Americans rallied in a candlelight vigil for "Hate Free America" in the wake of the killing of eight people, six of Asian descent, last week in Atlanta.

At least 50 people, including several local elected officials, gathered outside Columbia Chinese Baptist Church in Ellicott City on Sunday to condemn racism against Asians nearly a week after fatal shootings at massage businesses in Atlanta.

The rally was hosted by the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County, and founding president Jean Xu said she felt that it was important not only to remember the victims but also to raise awareness about hate crimes committed in Howard County.

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She said that numerous Asian-owned restaurants were burglarized on the Lunar New Year last month and that Asian restaurant patrons have been verbally assaulted. Xu expressed frustration about these incidents not being taken seriously enough by the community and law enforcement.

“People have been ignoring us. People have been turning a deaf ear to us,” Xu said. “How many lives do we have to sacrifice? How much pain do we have to endure? The answer is no more.”

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Howard County police are increasing their checks on Asian American businesses and religious centers, a spokesman said last week. Police Chief Lisa Myers planned to meet with Asian American community leaders this week.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan plans to hold an event with Asian American business owners and community leaders with his wife, first lady Yumi Hogan, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

The Republican governor is expected to make an announcement about the rise in anti-Asian violence and to visit businesses that are part of “Korean Way,” a state-designated 5-mile stretch along Route 40 that is home to approximately 166 Korean businesses.

Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, is accused of killing four people inside two Atlanta spas and four others at a massage business about 30 miles away in suburban Cherokee County on Tuesday. Six of the eight people killed were women of Asian descent. Another person was shot but survived.

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Investigators have said Long confessed to the slayings but said they weren’t racially motivated. He claimed to have a sex addiction, which caused him to lash out at what he saw as sources of temptation, according to authorities. Police have said they’re still working to establish a motive, including looking into whether the attacks can be classified as hate crimes.

Outside the Ellicott City church on Sunday, community members placed flowers inside the outline of a candlelight heart in front of a poster of the Atlanta shooting victims’ names, which was surrounded by posters with such messages as “Stop Asian hate” and “Asian is not a virus racism is.” Several Maryland state delegates, a state senator and Howard County Board of Education members attended the rally.

Jesse Zong went up to light a candle and said he came out to raise awareness against the issues Asian Americans face. The 15-year-old said he’s always known his race has been targeted but that after the shooting he knew he needed to take a stand.

“We will not take it any more and we will not be silent,” the teen said.

Jennifer Guo of Ellicott City said it was important to bring her teenage children out so they could use their voices to “speak out for their future.”

“Many Asian Americans feel afraid, including myself, but we’re angry,” she said. “Enough is enough. We need to speak up.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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