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As law enforcement authorities try to determine what motivated the Allen mall gunman to kill eight shoppers, Asian American and Pacific Islander residents say last weekend’s massacre has stoked distress within their communities.
The gunman held neo-Nazi beliefs and most of the victims were people of color.
Namrata Sharma lives less than a mile away from the outlet mall. Her 7-year-old daughter doesn’t want to go anywhere alone without her mom or dad because she is so scared. Her 10-year-old son came back from school on Monday and said he was open to moving out of the country.
“We don’t feel safe. I’ve already told my kids we’re not gonna go to any public space for at least a month. We’ll see after that,” said Sharma, an Allen resident for 12 years. “The pain is real. I’m sure I say it for everyone. The tears have not stopped.”
Sharma’s fears come after years of anti-Asian rhetoric fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time when Texas legislators have proposed bills this session that target Chinese residents — even proposing to prohibit them from buying land.
“This tragedy is yet another reminder of the dangerous consequences of hate and bigotry,” the coalition Stop AAPI Hate said in a statement. “The ongoing normalization and amplification of white supremacy and far-right extremism poses a growing threat to communities of all stripes across the nation, and inaction on this issue continues to destroy lives.”
Three of the victims were a Korean family whose only survivor was a 6-year-old boy. Another victim was a 26-year-old woman from India, shopping days ahead of her birthday.
The 33-year-old gunman had Nazi tattoos and was wearing a patch that said “RWDS,” an acronym for “right wing death squad.” That’s a popular slogan among neo-Nazis and other extremist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center traces its origins to a white nationalist hate group. He brought eight weapons — all legally obtained — to the Allen outlet mall, according to Hank Sibley, the North Texas regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, who gave an update on the mass shooting at a Tuesday news conference.
Sibley said he believed the gunman was targeting a location more than specific people. The shooting took place 25 miles north of downtown Dallas in Collin County, which has one of the fastest-growing Asian American communities in the state.
Multiple residents told The Texas Tribune that Allen Premium Outlets largely attracted shoppers of color, especially those of Asian descent. Shoppers would often be dressed in saris and salwars.
Investigators say they are analyzing the gunman’s digital devices and social media presence. A Washington Post report has already identified one of the gunman’s accounts on Russian social media platform Odnoklassniki, where he posted about his fantasies of race wars and used violent, hateful rhetoric that singled out Asian people with slurs.
Aric Toler, of the investigation group Bellingcat, said the gunman might have opted for the social media platform “because it has virtually zero content moderation.” The gunman used the platform like a diary, expressing admiration for other mass killers, Toler reported.
In one post, the gunman, who is Latino, shared a meme depicting Latino children choosing to either “act black” or “become a white supremacist,” and said “I think I’ll take my chances with the white supremacist.”
Older entries depicted the gunman’s tattoos of a swastika and other Nazi symbols, according to Toler, and he also showed off a tattoo of Texas on his right bicep — suggesting he identified strongly with the state in which he resided.
In Texas’ 2023 legislative session, lawmakers have considered a host of bills that target the Chinese diaspora. Texas lawmakers first sought to ban land and home purchases by citizens of China and three other countries. Met with backlash, the Texas Senate passed a watered-down version of the proposal.
Texas lawmakers are also considering banning college students who hail from certain countries and cutting off Texans’ access to TikTok and WhatsApp, which Chinese Texans say are crucial for communicating with family in China.
State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said such bills send a message to people like the Allen gunman, who have been “indoctrinated” by white supremacy, that Asian Americans are a danger.
“My concern for all these types of legislation is when we put a target on the backs of a community, then that community will suffer the brunt of it,” Wu said.
Wu said lawmakers have a responsibility for the rise of white supremacy: “We can push these people back into the sewer from where they came. But we don’t.”
Both the Senate and the House had a resolution for Asian Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, as Texans grappled with the shooting in Allen.
Anti-Asian rhetoric has steadily increased since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when former President Donald Trump regularly referred to the disease as the “Chinese virus.” At the same time, anti-Asian hostility reached mainstream levels with inflammatory and often racist language and incidents of violence.
“In recent years, especially this year due to the geopolitical environment, it has been tough for Asian Americans,” state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, said on Tuesday in the House gallery. “I have been yelled by strangers calling me … a communist and a Chinese spy.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he opposed a bill in April 2021 that would have expedited the Justice Department’s processing of “COVID-19 hate crimes.” After his initial remarks, Cruz voted for the bill after it was amended. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, criticized a hearing on the bill as “the policing of rhetoric in a free society” as he used it as a forum to denounce the Chinese government over the pandemic.
Anti-Asian racism has long been a part of the history of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said Stephanie Drenka, the co-founder of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society.
From The Dallas Morning News archives, a story published on Oct. 31, 1889 about the beating and killing of a Chinese laundromat owner and a friend in Pecos City.
When Chinese men settled in Dallas and built successful laundromat businesses as early as the 1880s, the local newspapers would run editorials falsely claiming Chinese laundromat owners ran the risk of contracting diseases. Clips of articles in The Dallas Morning News show Chinese laundromat owners and restaurant owners were terrorized and beaten.
In recent years, North Texas has become a “breeding ground” for white supremacists like the gunman in the Allen shooting, Drenka said. The gunman who opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019 and killed 23 people was from Allen.
“[The shooting in] Allen didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Drenka said.
A punctured sense of safety
In Allen, nearly 1 in 5 residents is Asian.
A lack of investment in Asian neighborhoods in Dallas prompted Asian Americans to migrate out of the city and to northern suburbs like Allen, Drenka said. Allen, she said, was attractive because of the cost of living and available housing and space.
The suburb of Allen is now home to nearly 107,000 people, but locals say it feels like a small town. It’s ranked as one of the safest towns in the country.
“When we bought the house here in Allen, one of the reasons was that outlet mall — it was kind of a local attraction,” said Riyaz Muhammad, who moved to Allen in 2011.
Muhammad’s son frequented the H&M at the outlet mall. Just last week, his wife waited in the car while his son went into the store to return some clothes.
Now, he feels like the very mall that brought him here has been robbed from his family and the rest of the community.
Muhammad, 53, is an organizer with South Asian American Voter Engagement of Texas, a group that wants to see gun safety legislation, such as raising the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21.
Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers have downplayed guns since the Allen shooting, though 83% of Asian American and Pacific Islanders support gun safety legislation, according to a 2022 poll from Asian Texans for Justice.
“I support the Second Amendment. I believe uncontrolled, evolving gun culture is detrimental to my right to self defense,” Muhammad said. “Assault rifles are meant for assault. All I’m asking is to protect my Second Amendment by having sensible gun laws.”
Muhammad likes to think time will heal the community — but with gun violence becoming an everyday occurrence, he’s not sure how long that will take.
Alejandro Serrano and Stephen Simpson contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Southern Poverty Law Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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