Mar 16, 2022 - News

Asian Americans in Atlanta channel pain from spa shootings into advocacy

Supporter outside Gold Spa after March 16, 2021, shooting in Atlanta

Asian Americans in metro Atlanta are marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly spa shootings that killed eight people, including six Asian women. Photo by Chris Aluka Berry for The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the year before the March 16, 2021, spa shootings in metro Atlanta, Asian Americans, particularly women and elderly people, were already the targets of assaults and racist epithets by people blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big picture: The shooting that killed eight people, including six Asian women, and its aftermath was a turning point, says Angela Hsu, past president of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

  • “It felt like we could finally talk about it,” Hsu tells Axios of violence against Asian Americans. “We were a visible minority, but our issues were invisible to the broader U.S.”

Flashback: Today marks one year since police say Robert Aaron Long, a white man, shot five people at Youngs Asian Massage Parlor in Cherokee County, three people at Gold Spa and one at Aromatherapy Spa, both in Atlanta.

  • The victims killed in Atlanta were: Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant and Yong Ae Yue. Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Yaun and Paul Michels all died in the Cherokee shooting. One person survived the Cherokee shooting.

Asian American organizations around metro Atlanta will host two events Wednesday to talk about the pain of last year’s shooting and to pay tribute to the victims.

  • On Saturday, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta held a community commemoration at Blackburn Park in Dunwoody adjacent to a memorial honoring the Comfort Women, Asian women and girls who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese imperial army during World War II.

What they’re saying: Phi Nguyen, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, tells Axios that the last year has been challenging, but her organization is not relenting in its fight against systemic biases.

She also said there needs to be more education and knowledge about anti-Asian violence.

  • “It’s not just physical assaults on the street, but it’s our communities being targeted for detention and deportation,” she said. “It’s also our communities having their votes suppressed. It’s the systemic racism and white supremacy that our communities face.”

The pain of losing his mother, Yong Ae Yue, in the spa shootings will never leave Robert Peterson’s heart, but he knows she would want him to keep on living and “make her proud by leaving an impact on the world,” he told the audience gathered at Saturday’s memorial.

  • “We have a responsibility to stand together in our shared concern to fight for equality and justice,” said Peterson, who identifies as Korean and Black. “Take care of ourselves and be there to support our friends, our family and the larger community.

He tells Axios that there’s no single answer in solving the problem of violence against Asian Americans, but increasing cultural awareness, educating people about history, and improving economic opportunities for women are basic starting points.

  • “My mother is not coming back,” he said. “It has to be more than about my mother, so it has to be about the larger community, the bigger issues at hand that led this person to do what he did. We have a lot of work to do.”

Context: Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased 339% in 2021, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

  • The Stop AAPI Hate National Report, which recorded 10,905 hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, notes that nearly 62% of these incidents were reported by women.

State Rep. Sam Park tells Axios that while the shooting rocked the Asian American community, it has been resilient and lobbied for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was signed into law by President Biden.

  • “I think we have to understand that we are facing a very challenging period of time, but that we have the power to make things better and to move forward,” he said.

What we’re watching: Long is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to the shootings in Cherokee. He faces the death penalty in Fulton County for murder and hate crimes charges based on race and gender. A hearing is scheduled for April.


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