Atlanta Mass Shootings Spark Fear And Anger In Chicago-Area Asian Communities

Atlanta shootings massage parlor
A sign for the Gold Spa massage parlor is displayed in Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, March 17, 2021, the day after multiple people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long in the shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Ben Gray / Associated Press
Atlanta shootings massage parlor
A sign for the Gold Spa massage parlor is displayed in Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, March 17, 2021, the day after multiple people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long in the shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. Ben Gray / Associated Press

Atlanta Mass Shootings Spark Fear And Anger In Chicago-Area Asian Communities

Asian communities in the Chicago area are on high alert after a gunman killed eight people, including six Asians, at three Asian spas near Atlanta Tuesday.

The shootings come after months of news reports about attacks scapegoating Asian Americans for the coronavirus.

Chicago-area groups say local Asian communities are now even more fearful about being out in public.

“People are really worried about individuals and families and local communities who are really working just to survive, especially in this coronavirus time, but now they’re afraid to leave the house,” said Inhe Choi, executive director of the HANA Center, a Korean American community organization.

Choi said the news that four of the Atlanta victims were of Korean descent, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, has especially shaken up the Chicago-area Korean American community.

“Our community is horrified — there’s a lot of fear, anger, just appalled at what’s happened,” Choi said, adding that there have been a string of anti-Asian attacks in Chicagoland leading up to Tuesday’s shooting. She said she’d heard of Asian residents being yelled at in stores or while riding public transportation, a woman who had a rock thrown at her outside a grocery store downtown and an Asian Amazon worker who was assaulted by a man while making a delivery.

These kinds of incidents date back to the beginning of the pandemic, when then-President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders scapegoated China for the coronavirus.

The suspect in the Atlanta-area shootings, Robert Aaron Long, 21, told police that he killed the victims because of a “sexual addiction” and not out of a racial motivation, according to news reports.

“Just because he’s saying it’s not racially motivated, it doesn’t mean it isn’t, given all that’s gone into how Asian American women are viewed and sexualized in this country,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, who leads the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “Many of us actually feared for something like this happening.”

According to news reports, four of the victims were killed in two shootings in Atlanta — Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong Ae Yue, 63. The other four victims — Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44 — were killed at a spa in Cherokee County, Georgia.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate National Report released last week, there were nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian attacks reported over the course of a year during the pandemic. About 45% of the reported incidents took place in California, which ranked first among U.S. states. Illinois ranked seventh, according to the report. The report also showed that women made up about 68% of those reporting incidents.

NAPAWF’s Choimorrow, who herself was verbally assaulted in Albany Park while walking with her young daughter, says anti-Asian incidents in the Chicago area are likely underreported.

“People tell us, and we encourage them to report [the incidents], and they don’t want to,” she said. “It’s partially the stereotype that we’re trying to live into — keep your head down, mind your own business and just be successful — and unfortunately, that’s really hurting our community during this time.”

Choimorrow said Asian Americans and community groups in the Chicago area may also not be familiar with the incident tracker. Stop AAPI Hate is based in northern California.

Locally, there is “a lot of informal reporting happening,” said Choi, with the HANA Center. “The vulnerable community members often call people who they know … their friends, their churches, the organizations that they know.”

Added Choi, “a coordinated effort to keep track of this data would be really helpful, and government can support that effort.” She said government officials could also provide relief for Asian communities by supporting undocumented immigrants and expanding language access services.

In separate news conferences on Wednesday, both Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned the Atlanta shootings.

“Make no mistake about this, this was a hate crime,” Lightfoot said. “This was a crime that has shone a harsh light on the anti-Asian violence and hateful rhetoric that has been on the rise since COVID-19 became a global pandemic.”

Pritzker said the Atlanta shootings “[reek] of racialized misogyny and [come] on the heels of a year in which the Asian and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities experienced so much racist scapegoating for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In an emailed statement to WBEZ, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he “condemns, in the strongest terms, violent attacks and hate crimes directed at Asian Americans.” Raoul encourages people to report hate crimes and harassment to law enforcement and by calling his office’s Civil Rights Hotline at 1-877-581-3692 or emailing the Civil Rights Bureau.

NAPAWF’s Choimorrow cautioned that many long-standing and underlying issues remain.

“It’s great that people are making statements and condemning what happened,” she said, “but even if you’re going to put out a statement, there really needs to be a recognition of how misogyny and racism in this country’s history has led up to what happened [Tuesday].”

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.