Community members gathered at the State Capitol building Thursday to remember the victims of the Atlanta and Cherokee spa shootings on the two-year anniversary.
On March 16, 2021, eight people — six of them Asian women — at spas in Cherokee County and Atlanta were shot and killed and another wounded. Now, two years later, the event Always With Us: Asian Americans Rise Against Hate was held in cities throughout the country. The event brought together local Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders, elected officials and community members to mark the two-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings and to heighten awareness of the on-going violence against Asian women.
The event started with comments from members of the Georgia AAPI Legislative Caucus at the State Capitol building, including Rep. Michelle Au, former Rep. Bee Nguyen, Rep. Lucy McBath and Rep. Sam Park.
“The violent massacre that took the lives of eight people, including six Asian women, shook me to my core,” Nguyen said. “It was not because of my concerns for my own personal safety. It was because I saw in these women my own mother, my auntie, my grandmother.”
Following the speeches at the Capitol, attendees and speakers made their way to the rally at the Georgia Freight Depot. Robert Peterson, son of victim Yong Ae Yue, and Michael Webb, widower of victim Xiaojie Tan, both spoke of their loved ones at the Capitol and the rally.
“As the proud son of a Korean woman and a Black man, I believe all of us have a shared responsibility against hate,” Peterson said. “My mother was an Asian woman who was targeted for being who she was, and for occupying a particular space, by someone she didn’t know. She would want us to continue fighting for visibility, for our collective values, and for the safety of our community and our families. This sentiment is one that all people should be able to support.”
Nationally, in May 2022, over a third of Asian Americans said they made changes in their daily schedule or routine over the previous 12 months due to worry about being threatened or attacked, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The same survey found that only 19% of them believed their local elected officials were doing a very or somewhat good job dealing with violence against Asian Americans.
“The violence and hate Asian Americans face is real and it continues to endanger our community,” Peterson said. “Again, my mother was robbed of her voice, of her liberty and her life at 63. She was taken through violent expressions of hate and gun violence.”
Previous to that, on the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta shootings, a survey conducted by AAPI Data found that 16% of Asian American and 14% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander adults had experienced a hate incident since the beginning of 2021 — proportions suggesting that nearly 3 million AAPI adults had experienced a hate incident within about a year.
Webb said he had just helped his wife renovate her salon mere months before she was murdered. He and Peterson have been using their grief to fight for gun control and raise awareness of violence against the AAPI community, particularly women.
“I used to worry more about my daughters’ safety that my sons’ because they’re women,” Webb said. “But now I was worried more about their safety because they’re Asian woman. My former wife and seven other innocent people, most of them Asian women, were hunted down and killed by a 21-year-old boy that the state of Georgia allowed to walk into a gun store and walk out with a semi automatic weapon...they were all dead two hours later.”
Webb said he is an advocate for common sense gun laws even as a gun owner.
“So to the vocal minority — stop hyperventilating about some diabolical plan to take your guns,” Webb said. “It’s just paranoia.”
The victims at the Atlanta spas include Soon Chung Park, 74, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Suncha Kim, 69 and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
The four victims who died in the Cherokee County shooting were Delaina Yaun-Gonzalez, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Xiaojie Tan, 49, and Daoyou Feng, 44.
“(Mom) is now our ancestor,” Peterson said. “We must remember her life and the others and keep fighting, keep living. Now it’s time for us to finish the job that she prepared us for. So I say, even as we gather to mourn, and remember that we are together and ultimately history shows that we are stronger when we stand and collectively we fight injustices together.
I love you, Momma and I now do this and work for you.”
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