Atlanta, Cherokee County tour by Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also spotlights need for hate crime laws

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus traveled to metro Atlanta on Sunday to visit the somber sites of this month’s deadly spa shootings and to call attention to hate crime laws and growing anti-Asian hate in America.

The visiting lawmakers, who were joined by members of Georgia’s congressional delegation and state representatives, followed the deadly path from March 16 that claimed eight lives, with six of them being women of Asian descent.

The trip paid respects to the victims of the tragedy: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; and Paul Andre Michels, 54, 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.

The first stop for the chartered bus tour was Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth.

“We have to come here and see this for ourselves,” U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, the caucus chair and California Democrat, said at a press conference at the end of the tour.

Then the group took the 27-mile, 40-minute journey to Atlanta’s Piedmont Road and the parking lot of Aromatherapy Spa and to the Gold Spa directly across the street.

The lawmakers later met with two families of the victims before holding a roundtable discussion with local Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth.

Several lawmakers referred to the deadly shootings as being motivated by racism and misogyny. Chu called on the Department of Justice to prosecute the killings as a federal hate crime.

“For the crimes against us to be considered seriously enough, they would not only do murder charges but also hate crime charges,” Chu said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That means that we’ll be taken seriously versus a situation where our lives could be considered less. That’s what we’re combating.”

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, talks to the media at the Gold Spa in Atlanta on Sunday, March 28, 2021. At this spa and another in Atlanta and one in Acworth, eight people were shot and killed earlier this month. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, talks to the media at the Gold Spa in Atlanta on Sunday, March 28, 2021. At this spa and another in Atlanta and one in Acworth, eight people were shot and killed earlier this month. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, also said the shooting spree should be considered a hate crime.

“If this isn’t a hate crime under the law, then the law needs to be changed,” Green said.

In Georgia, a hate crimes law was passed in June following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was fatally shot while jogging near Brunswick in February 2020. According to the law, in crimes determined to be motivated by factors such as a victim’s race, religion, national origin or sex, extra penalties can be applied. Before last year, Georgia was one of the few states without a hate crime law.

On Sunday afternoon, the electronic sign at Aromatherapy Spa continued to scroll — open seven days a week — but the doors were locked, and the pathway to door was covered with bouquets of plastic-wrapped flowers, a memorial to another mass shooting in America.

Hand-lettered signs listed the names of the dead, and spread messages of solidarity and calls to action. “Hate is a virus,” one read. “Bad day? We all are having one,” read another. The latter was a reference to comments made at a press conference by Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker to categorize the shooter’s actions.

After making the comments, The Washington Post and other media outlets reported that Baker’s Facebook page had promoted shirts that referred to COVID-19 as an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”

That kind of language echoed President Donald Trump’s insistence last year on using xenophobic slurs to refer to the coronavirus at rallies, speeches and press conferences, which many said stigmatized Asian Americans and fostered animus toward the Asian community.

According to research by Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that tracks incidents of discrimination, hate and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, there was a spike of hate incidents and acts against Asian Americans in 2020.

There were almost 3,800 incidents recorded by Stop AAPI Hate. Especially alarming was that women were the target of 68% of incidents.

Amid the state and national discussions over racism in the wake of the spa shootings, last week state lawmakers were back in the national spotlight when they passed a far-reaching set of changes that critics charge clamps down on voting access based on unfounded suspicions about last year’s election results.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 202 into law on Thursday, the same day it passed both the state House and Senate. As Kemp livestreamed the announcement that he had signed an elections bill into law, Georgia state troopers arrested state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, for knocking on the governor’s door.

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“It’s denial and a refusal to admit what’s really happening in our society,” said state Rep. David Dreyer, when asked by the AJC about state lawmakers passing the bill after the tragedy.

Dreyer brought his two sons, Henry and Leo, ages 12 and 10, respectively, to Aromatherapy, wrapping his arms around their shoulders as the visiting lawmakers spoke to the media.

“What I understand on being a father is it’s actually hate that’s taught,” he said. “What is hard is for them to see — what hate does in our society and the effects of hate. I think the biggest fight in our society is to end racism and white supremacy.”

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State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, said changes must be made.

“If we continue on this pathway where we don’t acknowledge and admit the truth, and we don’t take the appropriate steps, this is going to happen again — not just to Asian people, but it will continue to happen to Black and brown people in our country,” she said. “And we cannot allow white America to tell us any different.”