Call Out Racial Violence ‘for Exactly What it Is,’ Congresswoman Says
Representative Marilyn Strickland of Washington said on Wednesday that people “must stop making excuses” for racial violence, a day after a white man killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in Atlanta.
“The tragic shootings in Atlanta yesterday killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. To the families of the victims, you have my deepest condolences. This crime has elements that we are trying to address here in Congress: gun violence, violence against women and the meteoric rise of violence, we are witnessing against the A.A.P.I. community. Racially motivated violence must be called out for exactly what it is, and we must stop making excuses or rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction. As a woman who is Black and Korean, I’m acutely aware of how it feels to be erased or ignored. And how the default position when violence is committed against people of color or women is to defer from confronting the hate that is often the motivation. Words matter. Leadership matters. We must all loudly condemn actions and language rooted in fear and bigotry that harms all of us.”
The shootings in Atlanta sent a shock wave through Washington on Wednesday, resonating with the increasingly powerful contingent of Asian-American members in Congress.
“Racially motivated violence should be called out for exactly what it is — and we must stop making excuses or rebranding it as economic anxiety or sexual addiction,” said Marilyn Strickland, a Korean-American Democrat from Washington, in a speech on the House floor.
“As a woman who is Black and Korean,” she said, “I’m acutely aware of how it feels to be erased or ignored, and how the default position when violence is committed against people of color or women is to defer from confronting the hate that is often the motivation.”
The man arrested in the killings, Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Ga., told authorities he had struggled with “sexual addiction” and targeted the businesses where the victims worked to rid himself of temptation. Mr. Long is white.
Six of the eight victims killed on Tuesday were of Asian descent, the authorities said; an official from the South Korean Consulate in Atlanta confirmed on Wednesday that four were ethnic Koreans.
Ms. Strickland, who was born in Seoul and attended graduate school in Atlanta, was one of three women of Korean ancestry to be elected to Congress last year, along with Representative Young Oak Kim, a Republican from California, and Representative Michelle Park Steel, a Republican from California. They were the first three Korean-American women ever elected to Congress.
“We should never be outraged by violence only targeting those who look like us” said Representative Andy Kim. Credit...Bryan Anselm for The New York Times
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said the group was “horrified by the news coming out of GA at a time when we’re already seeing a spike in anti-Asian violence. Although details are still unfolding, at least half of the victims appear to be Asian-American women. Our hearts go out to the victims & their families.”
Representative Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat who is also of Korean-American ancestry, posted an anguished thread on Twitter expressing his determination to address the issues of violence against Asian people and women.
“We should never be outraged by violence only targeting those who look like us. Hate comes in many forms,” he wrote, urging members of the House to revive the expired Violence Against Women Act which, by coincidence, was up for a vote on Wednesday.
The killings are likely to reignite debates over gun violence that have flared and then receded following other mass killings around the country.
“This kind of violence happens too often in America. And we weep with those who weep,” Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia who is from Atlanta, told reporters at the Capitol. “But we’ve got to do everything we can in terms of addressing bigotry and hate in our country.”
Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who was elected to represent the state with Mr. Warnock earlier this year, commended the “swift action” of the police in the case.
“While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian-American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year,” he said in a statement.
Asian-Americans are being attacked. Why are hate-crime charges so rare?
Victor Shey and his daughter AnnaLene Shey, 7, attended a vigil in Queens, N.Y., on Wednesday for the victims of a shooting in Georgia, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Credit Andrew Seng for The New York Times
The shootings in Atlanta, in which six women of Asian descent were killed, come amid a tortured public conversation over how to confront a rise in reports of violence against Asian-Americans, who have felt increasingly vulnerable with each new attack.
Many incidents have either not led to arrests or have not been charged as hate crimes, making it difficult to capture with reliable data the extent to which Asian-Americans are being targeted.
Investigators said it was too early to determine a motive in the Atlanta attacks. After a suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was arrested, he denied harboring a racial bias and told officials that he carried out the shootings as a form of vengeance for his “sexual addiction.”
The Atlanta shootings and other recent attacks have exposed difficult questions involved in proving a racist motive. Did the assaults just happen to involve Asian victims? Or did the attackers purposely single out Asians in an unspoken way that can never be presented as evidence in court?
Many Asian-Americans have been left wondering how much cultural stereotypes that cast them — especially women — as weak or submissive targets played a role.
As the debate over what legally qualifies as anti-Asian bias unfolds, the community is grappling with the reality that the law is simply not designed to account for many of the ways in which Asian-Americans experience racism.
Proving a racist motive can be particularly difficult with attacks against Asians, experts say. There is no widely recognized symbol of anti-Asian hate comparable to a noose or a swastika. Historically, many Asian crime victims around the country were small-business owners who were robbed, complicating the question of motive.
“There’s a recognizable prototype with anti-Black or anti-Semitic or anti-gay hate crime,” said Lu-in Wang, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “They’re often more clear-cut.”