Hundreds marched through downtown Atlanta on Saturday to denounce hate and violence in the wake of this past week’s spa shootings that left eight dead, six of them women of Asian ancestry.

“Experiencing racism is part of our daily lives, and our community has really suffered in silence for a very long time,” said Jaewon Back, 26, who was among those gathered near the steps of the Georgia Capitol for a rally ahead of the march.

She said she also marched in Atlanta with Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. “Unless you speak up, it’s not going to get better.”

The rally at Liberty Plaza drew a diverse group, recalling the multiracial coalitions in the Black Lives Matter protests in response to the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers.

Georgia’s two new Democratic U.S. Senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, were among the formal speakers Saturday.

“Dr. King used to say that, at a time like this, silence is betrayal,” said Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. preached. “So, we stand in solidarity with our Asian sisters and brothers.”

Ossoff alluded to efforts to restrict voting in Georgia, saying this should be a state where registering to vote takes less time than buying a gun.

ExploreComplete coverage: Atlanta spa shootings

Hours before the shooting started, alleged killer Robert Aaron Long, 21, reportedly bought a gun. He has been charged with murders in connection with each of the deaths. He told police he battled a sexual addiction and frequented the three spas where the victims were shot.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, said the fact that it took police several days to identify all of the dead, seven of them women, suggests that they lived isolated and vulnerable lives. Their mass killing reflected racism and xenophobia, she said. “It was also about deep-seated misogyny.”

Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44 were shot and killed at a spa in Cherokee County. Yong Ae Yue, 63; Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51 were shot later at two Atlanta spas.

ExploreFamilies trying to make sense of tragedy

Back, who was clutching her little brother at the rally, said she was shocked by debates about the killer’s motive, given that most of the victims were women of Asian ancestry.

“I mean, the facts are right there,” she said, adding that the “hypersexualization” of Asian women is a well-known facet of a culture where white men dominate. Just being a woman is scary, she said, describing a time when a friend of Laotian descent was harassed in a Suwanee parking lot. “Go home, go back to where you came from,” large white men shouted at her, Back said.

The hashtag promoting Saturday’s event was #StopAsianHate, and the slogan was seen and voiced during the rally and subsequent march.

Jackie Ly, 19, of Marietta, was carrying a piece of cardboard with the slogan. He drove to the rally with friends. He was stung by a similar incident involving his mother, who owns an alteration business near one of the spas. She was walking the dog last year, during the time when President Donald Trump had begun blaming China for the pandemic. “People drove by and yelled, ‘Go back to your country,’” he said.

Among his companions Saturday was Andrew Blackmon, 19, who said he was tired of white supremacism’s “strong hold” on America and also recounted a similar incident. “I’m Hispanic, and I’ve experienced a lot of racism,” Blackmon said. “I’ve been told to go back to my country, and I was born here.”

A large crowd gathers for a unity rally at Liberty Plaza near the state Capitol on Saturday, March 20, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
A large crowd gathers for a unity rally at Liberty Plaza near the state Capitol on Saturday, March 20, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Tom Whitehead, who is white, was among several in the crowd who brought U.S. flags. “Some groups of Americans have tried to hijack the flag, but it belongs to all of us,” he said. He was there because his husband of Thai ancestry has been harassed. For instance, while walking into his condo in Sandy Springs, he was harangued by neighbors fed up with Asian restaurant flyers in their mailboxes, Whitehead said. “They just assumed he was doing that and started screaming at him.”

As at last summer’s protests, many brought children Saturday. Naimah Oladuwa-Frame biked to the rally with her husband and their daughters.

”We are here in support and solidarity for oppressed people everywhere,” she said, adding that she was meeting a friend of Chinese and Vietnamese ancestry. Oladuwa-Frame, who is Black, said her friend had attended a Black Lives Matter protest with her.

”She showed up for me, so there’s no way I wouldn’t show up for her.”

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