Asian Americans grieve, organize in wake of Atlanta attacks

Asian Americans were already worn down by a year of pandemic-fueled racist attacks when a white gunman was charged with killing eight people, most of them Asian women, at three Atlanta-area massage businesses.

Hundreds of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders turned to social media to air their anger, sadness, fear and hopelessness. The hashtag #StopAsianHate was a top trending topic on Twitter hours after the shootings Tuesday evening.

“I think the reason why people are feeling so hopeless is because Asian Americans have been ringing the bell on this issue for so long. ... We’ve been raising the red flag,” said Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Atlanta-based Asian American Advocacy Fund, which does political and advocacy work across Georgia.

Many also were outraged that the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was not immediately charged with hate crimes. Authorities said Long told them the attack was not racially motivated and claimed that he targeted the spas because of a sex addiction. Six of the seven slain women were of Asian descent.

Law enforcement needs “some training understanding what a hate crime is," said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. "This man identified targets owned by Asians.”

The gunman “was very clearly going after a targeted group of people,” Huang said.

Being Asian American herself, Huang said the shootings felt personal. She is worried that not classifying the attack as a hate crime will “absolutely discourage others from coming forward and seeking help.”

She also cringed at the comments of a sheriff's captain who said of the gunman: “It was a really bad day for him.”