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Atlanta Deadly Spa Shootings Leave Local Asian American Community 'Shook To The Core'

Law enforcement personnel are seen outside a massage parlor where a person was shot and killed Tuesday. Eight people were killed in shootings at three different spas in metro Atlanta. A 21-year-old male suspect is in custody. (ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
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A series of shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday left eight people dead, and authorities have identified six of them as women of Asian descent, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. A 21-year-old white man, Robert Aaron Long, is in custody and has reportedly confessed to the crimes.

Long drove tens of miles from one spa in a suburb across the Atlanta metro area to attack two other spas, according to officials. NPR reportsthat Long is believed to have previously visited the spas he attacked.

With reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans rising sharply over the past year, the attack prompted a strong and emotional response across the country, including Southern California.

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Recent violent attacks during the pandemic against Asian Americans, particularly older people, across the country -- including several in California -- have put the community on edge.

Connie Chung Joe, who heads Asian Americans Advancing Justice-L.A., said the shooting has ripple effects on the Asian community.

"People feel like we have a target on our backs," she said. "And now having this incredibly horrendous incident ... our communities are going to be shook to the core."

During the pandemic, women reported harassment and attacks at more than twice the rate of men to the online tracker Stop AAPI Hate.

Hong Lee, who was attacked by a man who hurled racial slurs at her L.A. restaurant last summer, said the Atlanta-area attacks have stoked her fears of being attacked again and left her in a state of constant alert.

"I continue being aware of my surroundings," she said, "knowing who's in front of me, behind me, around me, paying attention to my closest exit.

L.A. saw the number of hate crimes against Asians more than double from seven in 2019 to 15 in 2020. That's a 114% increase, but law enforcement and community leaders both say that number is an undercount in large part because of underreporting.

The STOP AAPI Hate Tracker, which relies on self-reporting, has recorded about 250 incidents throughout L.A. County, though the vast majority would not be treated as hate crimes by law enforcement. They include incidents such as verbal attacks and shunning.

The journalist and activist Helen Zia recently addressed frustration in the AAPI community during a Zoom call with Asian American leaders in L.A. and law enforcement about incidents targeting community members.

"You don't even have to utter a single word to make something a hate crime," Zia said during the meeting earlier this month. "But for Asian Americans, there is a higher threshold because so many people don't even think Asian Americans experience racism, discrimination, bigotry or hate."

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On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee subpanel is scheduled to hold a hearing to examine discrimination and violence against Asian Americans since the pandemic began.Manju Kulkarni of the LA-based Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Counci, which co-founded the Stop AAPI Hate Tracker, will be a panelist. South Bay Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu is a member of that committee.

Kulkarni said there are things everyone can do when they see someone being targeted: "When you see something, say something. Even if it's just verbal comments [or] racist jokes, lend your support. If there's an incident of discrimination, speak with a manager, potentially file a complaint or help the victim to file a complaint."

Appearing on KPCC's AirTalk Wednesday, L.A. Congresswoman Judy Chu said: "We all need to speak out against this kind of hate crime and violence that's going on. But also we need to provide community protection and victim supports. So that those that are elderly and walking around have someone who can look out for them. And on a societal level we need to increase our hate crime programs."