scorecardresearch Skip to main content

‘We have heavy hearts tonight’: Amid a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, people mourn the lives lost in Georgia

Officials stood in front of a massage parlor after a shooting Tuesday in Atlanta.Brynn Anderson

A horrific spate of shootings in Georgia on Tuesday has left eight people dead, many of them women of Asian descent, at a time when reported anti-Asian hate crimes have skyrocketed over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

The shootings occurred at two massage parlors in Atlanta and one in the suburbs. A 21-year-old male suspect was taken into custody hours after a manhunt, police said.

On social media, members of the Asian American community shared personal testimonials of the blatant racism and microaggressions they have faced in their lifetime, precautions they have taken in the wake of recent attacks, and words of grief following the killings.


While the motive of the suspect — a white man — has not yet been determined, many have drawn a connection between the rise in crimes against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic and the shooting deaths of the women he allegedly killed.

The organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice noted while there is “much to learn tonight” about the shootings in Georgia, many of the “victims are Asian, calling into question if this is related to recent hate crimes and assaults against Asian Americans.”

“We have heavy hearts tonight as we mourn eight people who have lost their lives in a senseless act of violence,” the organization wrote on Twitter.

An analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which looked at police department statistics across the United States, revealed that the nation saw a considerable hike in anti-Asian hate crimes last year in numerous major cities.

The study examined hate crimes in 16 of America’s major cities, and found that while such crimes decreased by 7 percent in 2020, those committed against Asian Americans surged by nearly 150 percent. In Boston, hate crimes rose from six reported in 2019 to 14 reported in 2020, according to the analysis, equivalent to a 133 percent rise.


In New York Tuesday night, NYPD Assistant Chief Martine Materasso said the department deployed Critical Response Command units to Asian communities.

“While there is no known nexus to #NYC we will be deploying assets to our great Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution,” Materasso wrote on Twitter.

Late Tuesday night, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp weighed in on the tragedies, expressing sympathy for those affected.

“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Kemp wrote on Twitter.

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock said his heart “is broken tonight after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives.”

“Once again we see that hate is deadly,” Warnock wrote on Twitter. “Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.”

Some were quick to note the role former president Donald Trump may have played in spurring anti-Asian sentiments. At the beginning of the pandemic — and as recently as Tuesday evening during a televised interview on Fox News — Trump used racist language targeting Asian Americans and the Chinese community.

He has referred to the coronavirus as “the China virus” and “kung flu,” racist slurs that quickly became a rallying cry for his supporters.

President Biden acknowledged the violence committed against Asian Americans less than a week ago, saying, “It’s wrong. It’s un-American. And it must stop.”


Yet many Asian Americans shared that racism, whether overt or in the form of microaggressions, has been present throughout the course of their lives. And others online said America’s history and policies have long pointed to racial injustice toward the community.

Activist Timothy Phan wrote on Twitter that “if your automatic response to anti-Asian violence in #atlanta today is blame Donald Trump, you haven’t done enough to process the history of anti-Asian xenophobia in this country’s wretched history towards working-class immigrants of color.”

Alton Wang, a J.D. candidate at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, said that growing up, his “ever cautious dad” always chided him to be observant and alert of his surroundings — a “critical reminder now.”

“That the shooter targeted Asian women is not a coincidence,” Wang wrote on Twitter. “The misogynistic racism directed at Asian women is evident not just on platforms like Twitter, but in history — the roots of our broken, racist immigration system began by banning entry of Chinese women under the Page Act.”

Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, said she teaches a class on race in legal history.

Throughout the course, Perry said, she always educates her students on Asian American history “because you cannot teach serious history of US law as an instrument of racial injustice without the history of Asian Americans.”


“And today, the patterns of racial violence that are predicated on a notion of Asian Americans as ‘not belonging’ are directly tied to that history,” Perry wrote on Twitter. “I deeply hope that we can understand the current horror of racist violence directed at Asian Americans as a product of a shameful history that must be addressed directly.”

Nguyễn Anh Thư, of OCA–Asian Pacific American Advocates, said her mother, aunts, and herself have “been in a steady state of tension this entire pandemic.”

“This is beyond terrifying. Now, not only are they risking infection when going to work at the nail salon, they risk deadly targeted violence,” she wrote on Twitter. “I know those aestheticians — you know them too.”

But, she said, “I can’t trust agencies that embody white supremacy to protect my family.”

Claire Tran, who will be joining the Washington Post as a social media editor, shared that the events in Atlanta — for her and many of her friends — were reminiscent of their youth and the concerns they had for their parents even then.

“I just want to send love to everyone who — like me and many friends — grew up sitting around our parents’ nail salon or restaurant, or nervously awaiting them to come home from an overnight shift at a convenience store,” Tran wrote on Twitter.

“The worry,” she said, “never goes away.”


Shannon Larson can be reached at Follow her @shannonlarson98.