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'They're Fearful:' Asian Americans In Cleveland React To Atlanta Shooting

Members of the Asian American community in Northeast Ohio are shocked and outraged over the shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors Tuesday night that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent.

Atlanta Police said the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Ga., told authorities the shooting spree was not racially motivated. Police added it was too soon to know whether his actions should be considered a hate crime.

The killings are just the latest in an upsurge of violence against Asian Americans in the United States. 

Cleveland native and part-time resident, Ray Hom, doesn’t care whether it’s determined if this was a hate crime by law enforcement.

“It doesn't matter to me, because you talk about innocent human beings here that have lost their lives and these families have been impacted,” Hom said. “My heart goes out to them. And these are most likely immigrants, right? Who have come to us and are looking for a way to survive.”

Hom worries about his 86-year-old, Chinese American mother because of the news of violence against elderly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, sometimes referred to as AAPIs, living in bigger cities along the coasts.

“We're hearing reports about them just being pushed to the ground or beaten up or whatever for no reason at all. And so for the elderly, I'm very concerned, especially with spring weather coming up in Cleveland,” he said. “They walk to the grocery store, they go outside for exercise and take walks. You know, now, should they be fearful for their loss of being able to do that in the daylight?”

Many say that when former President Donald Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “China Virus” and made jokes about the “kung flu,” it put a target on the backs of Chinese Americans and Asian Americans. And it’s caused the Northeast Ohio Asian-American community to be more fearful and tired, according to Lisa Wong, president of the Greater Cleveland chapter of the OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates. 

“They're fearful of what could happen to friends, families, people who they know, people who they don't know, people who are innocent who are just attacked based on their race,” Wong said. 

In the Cleveland area, hate against Asian Americans has been reserved to verbal attacks, according to Wong.  

“That's what's most fearful among people here, is that, yes, there are these comments being said, but what if any of these comments turn violent or what if they incite others to be violent?” asked Wong. “We shouldn't have to live this way.” 

The online Stop AAPI Hate reporting center — which has tracked incidents since March 2020 — logged more than 2,800 instances of AAPI hate in the U.S. in 2020.

It’s a horrible statistic to think about, said Elaine Tso, CEO of Asian Services in Action (ASIA), which serves the Asian American community throughout Northeast Ohio.

“It’s horrible for me to even know that that many reports have been made, because I think about how many reports have not been made, which means that that number is even bigger in reality, Tso said, “They just have just gone unreported because community members are too afraid to speak out about the things that have been happened to them and or they feel like they will not be believed if they do speak out.”

ASIA, which works with Asian American victims of crime, is seeing a trend with police “not always believing victims of crime who say an attack was motivated by race,” Tso said.

“Sometimes when incidents are reported to the police, the incident is not categorized as a hate crime or a racially motivated incident, but rather just put it under a general category of an incident,” Tso said. “I think that there needs to be an education to the local, state and federal law enforcement so that they can be much more sensitized to the factors around hate crimes and believing the victim when they describe the situation in a way that that supports their claim of the crime being racially motivated.”


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