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1 year after the Atlanta spa shootings, a look at the movement to Stop Asian Hate

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been a year since a white man went on a murderous rampage in the Atlanta suburbs, killing eight people, six of them Asian women. And since then, there have been other highly publicized violent crimes against Asians in the U.S. and a growing movement to Stop Asian Hate. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports on that movement one year later.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Since 2020, Russell Jeung has been documenting anti-Asian hate incidents as a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

RUSSELL JEUNG: That's why, sadly, I wasn't surprised last year to see elders killed. I wasn't surprised by the Atlanta shootings because I saw the extent of the hate.

DIRKS: As a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, Jeung knows the history. Whenever an illness comes from an Asian country, it's followed by racism, often from the very top. And it wasn't just former President Trump calling COVID the China virus, Jeung says.

JEUNG: The Trump administration banned Chinese scientists and researchers. He suspended migration visas. He extended the Muslim ban. He cut refugee resettlement. He cut H1-B visas. All those policies disproportionately targeted Asians.

DIRKS: Jeung says chronicling hate and racism has been rough.

JEUNG: The hyper-vigilance, the anxiety, the anger, the depression - I think I just self-diagnosed myself as being traumatized.

DIRKS: Civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen (ph) says there's a lot of trauma right now.

AMANDA NGUYEN: You hear about our sisters getting shoved in front of trains, stabbed and screaming, and no one comes to help. It feels like getting torn apart.

DIRKS: She says it's important to recognize the majority of hate incidents are happening to women, no matter their age, their profession, their class.

NGUYEN: Asian American women are still bearing the brunt of hatred and ignorance in this country.

DIRKS: Nguyen says women who look like her are stereotyped as both demure and overly sexualized.

ESTHER KAO: There's a history in the United States of hyper-sexualizing Asian women and assuming that they're carriers of diseases.

DIRKS: That's Esther Kao (ph), a sex worker and an organizer with Red Canary Song. They work with Asian and migrant sex workers. It's not clear the women who were killed were sex workers, but the shootings in Atlanta made Kao feel targeted.

KAO: You know, if I die, I die. But until then, like, I live my life day to day.

DIRKS: Kao feels like her community has been erased from the Stop Asian Hate conversation. She says the clearest erasure is calls for more police as the solution to the problem of anti-Asian hate. She says the people she works with aren't just afraid of racist attacks. They're also afraid of police. And there's another thing.

KAO: The policing issue is - it drives such a wedge between, like, Asian American communities and, like, Black and brown communities.

DIRKS: That wedge is widened when some crimes get more media attention than others - what civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen calls cherry-picking the perpetrators.

NGUYEN: The majority of the violence that's happening against the AAPI community aren't from other communities of color. It's from white perpetrators.

DIRKS: A study from the Virulent Hate Project found that 75% of known offenders, the people verbally and physically harassing Asian Americans, are white men. Oakland activist Cat Brooks (ph) says right now all marginalized groups are facing more hate.

CAT BROOKS: Hate crimes did not just rise against our Asian relatives, right? It rose against everybody, including Black folks, queer folks.

DIRKS: She says the struggles for Black lives and against Asian hate are connected, and it's hard to see them being torn apart. But she understands people are acting out of fear. Russell Jeung with Stop AAPI Hate knows that too.

JEUNG: Anger and fear is driving Asian Americans, and what we need to do is transform and translate that anger and fear into love and justice.

DIRKS: He says it's a vicious cycle. Fear helped stoke racism against Asian Americans, and he doesn't want more fear, Asian American fear, to continue that cycle. He says the fight ahead is about more than hate crimes. It's about civil rights. Sandhya Dirks, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.