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‘It’s a terrible scourge that’s always been there’ — Asian community in Mass. shaken by Atlanta slayings, spike in attacks

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The slayings of six Asian women at spas in the Atlanta area were seen Wednesday by some members of Massachusetts’ Asian community as another expression of long-festering racism — and part of a surge of anti-Asian violence since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Steven S. Kim, a Brighton defense attorney who emigrated from Korea with his family when he was 5 years old, said passing drivers routinely shout racial epithets at him, and clients have rejected him because of his heritage.

“It’s a terrible scourge that has always been there,’' said Kim, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as a member of the Massachusetts National Guard. “The undercurrent and the underbelly of this country has always had that.”


He added: “There is this very tiring trope that Asian Americans have lived with for our entire existence here, whether you are first generation, second generation, third or forth. And that’s the consistent perception amongst the rest of the American population that we are foreigners. That we don’t belong.”

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu issued a statement decrying the shootings. Eight people in total were killed at three spas during the rampage, according to investigators. Seven of the victims were women.

“I join our Asian American community in mourning, and solidarity, following the senseless shootings in the Atlanta area last night,” she wrote on her Twitter account Wednesday. “It’s heartbreaking & appalling to see the anti-Asian harassment, violence, and now mass murder that has accelerated over the past year.”

In her statement, Wu, an at-large city councilor who is a candidate to succeed Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said the incident was “part of a long history of racism in American that we must all fight to end.”

“All too often, the most silenced members of our community — Asian American elders and women working in invisible industries — have borne the brunt of these attacks,” she wrote.


Police said they arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, after a brief manhunt following Tuesday’s shootings. He confessed to the shootings during an interview with authorities and said his actions were not racially motivated, police said.

Long was charged Wednesday with four counts of murder and one count of assault, officials said.

Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it was still early in the investigation and a determination had not yet been made whether it was a hate crime.

The killings come as crimes against Asian Americans have spiked across the United States. Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Americans reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents in all 50 states, according to a report released Tuesday by Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that advocates for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

“The unconscionable blaming of Asian American communities for the devastation of this pandemic has reinforced the sense of invisibility and perpetual foreigner status that so many of us have known our entire lives‚” Wu wrote.

The daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, Wu wrote about her own personal experiences, saying that “some of my most vivid childhood memories involve racist encounters with strangers. People who knew nothing about me except for my appearance feeling empowered to pull eyes into slits, or to chant ching chong sounds.”

She said she knew “that constant feeling of needing to be aware, ready, on guard whenever out in public,” she said.


She added that ”since before COVID-19 was spreading in United States, Asian American communities have been on edge. Boston has not been immune these incidents.”

Vinh Bui, 36, of Dorchester, said he felt angry when he learned about what happened in Atlanta.

Bui was born in refugee camp and came to the United States when he was two months old. He grew up in Fields Corner and said throughout his childhood he experienced discrimination firsthand for being part of what he called “the invisible minority.”

I was bullied my entire childhood,” Bui said. “I was assaulted by older kids, and sometimes verbally assaulted by adults...As a kid I was spat on. I had black eyes and busted lips growing up. I didn’t know what a ‘gook’ was until they started calling me that.”

And then he started fighting back.

“We escaped war to enter another war,” he said.

The Asian and Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network said in a statement that the organization was “enraged and devastated” by the murders.

“Increased and unchecked anti-Asian rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled xenophobia and anti-Asian racism,” the statement said. “We have seen a rise in attacks on Asian Americans, particularly elderly people, across the country, and a lack of safety in all aspects of our community members’ lives.”

Women experience the brunt of this racism, according to the statement.

“Asian American women are on the frontlines of our economic sectors, including as domestic workers and nail salon workers,” the statement said. “Asian American women are also the center of our family lives as homemakers and caretakers. Asian American women live simultaneously at the margins of society and at the intersection of immigration, gender, race, and class.”


The Lowell Police Department issued a statement denouncing “the recent incidents of violence against members of the Asian community in other areas of the country” and said that there would be an “increased police presence at locations and areas that could potentially be targeted.”

“Violence against individuals because of their race or background can never be tolerated,” Lowell Police Superintendent Raymond Kelly Richardson said in the statement. “Members of the Asian Community in Lowell can rest assured that the Lowell Police Department stands with them and is taking proactive measures to deter such incidents in Lowell.”

Lowell holds vigil for Atlanta shooting
People gathered in Lowell for a candlelight vigil for the people killed in the Atlanta shooting. (Shelby Lum/Globe Staff)

The Massachusetts House of Representatives’ Asian caucus members -- Donald Wong, Tackey Chan, Paul Schmid, Rady Mom, Maria Robinson, Tram Nguyen, Vanna Howard, and Erika Uyterhoeven -- put out a joint statement Wednesday, condemning the violence in Atlanta and across the nation.

“As information continues to come out about the shootings and murders that took place in Atlanta last night, our community is left heartbroken,” the statement said. “Although we are not surprised by this senseless violence, it is no less devastating. Violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise for over a year. We must acknowledge this fact and work to address it. Our voices have historically been marginalized and ignored, and even with the rise in anti-Asian racism over the course of the last year, we continue to have to fight to have them heard.”


Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn said he filed a hearing order for March 30 at 1 p.m. to talk about how the city can investigate and prevent incidents of hate crimes and discrimination.

“It is deeply heartbreaking to hear about the deadly shootings that occurred in Atlanta, where most of the victims were women of Asian descent,” Flynn said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims, and I hope that the perpetrator will be swiftly brought to justice. As the Boston City Councilor for District 2, I represent the largest Chinese and AAPI community in Boston, which includes Chinatown, the South End, Bay Village, Back Bay, and South Boston. This is a resilient community, but this community has faced significant levels of hate and discrimination since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest incident illustrates just how malicious anti-Asian hate can be, and how discrimination can turn into deadly violence. We need to support our AAPI neighbors, and we need to address the issue of anti-AAPI sentiments at the federal, state, and local levels.”

In a posting on Twitter, Councilor Andrea Campbell, also a mayoral candidate, added her voice to concern about attacks on the Asian community.

“I am beyond disgusted and saddened by the horrific acts of violence in Georgia. Last year, we marched and demanded action against racism. Today, I stand with the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community and all those who are grieving” she wrote. “The growing violence against our Asian American residents in the US and our own City must be addressed and that requires us all to not only acknowledge the root cause which is racism and anti-Asian sentiments, but to then do the hard work of eradicating it.”

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report. Correspondent Andrew Stanton contributed reporting.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him @JREbosglobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.