ATLANTA – As people nationwide rallied in support of the nation’s Asian American community following Tuesday’s killings in Georgia, hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon in downtown Atlanta for a rally and march to honor the victims and decry anti-Asian violence.
“We have been invisible and ignored in our country for over a century,” New York City-based actor Will Lex Ham told the crowd. “We are getting violently physically attacked. It took an elderly man in San Francisco to die to get attention. It took six Asian women to die in Atlanta to get people to care.”
Eight people were killed in Tuesday’s rampage, six of them Asian women. While police say the suspect said he did not target them because of their race, the crime touched a nerve in a community already reeling from a year-long rise in anti-Asian incidents that has spiked in recent months.
Saturday in Atlanta, the crowd gathered near the State Capitol, many holding signs reading “Stop Asian Hate” as Ham, among the event’s organizers, led them in a chant of “Stand Up, Fight Back!”
Gaby Lynch, 32, carried a piece of cardboard that read, “Does this sign make me look submissive?”
The daughter of a Filipino man and a Korean-Japanese-Irish mother, Lynch said the event was her first rally ever, and she was heartened to see the community support.
“It feels like home — like we are surrounded by family members,” said Lynch, who works in wholesaling in Atlanta. “We need people to know that we are not just silent and quiet.”
Newly elected Democratic Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia offered his support to the crowd and promised to use his position to fight discrimination, racism and gun violence.
The tragedy has prompted an outpouring of support, as communities nationwide, from Phoenix to Philadelphia, gathered this week to publicly mourn the victims. A coalition called the Asian American Leaders Table had compiled a list of such events around the country, some planned this weekend or later this month.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign to help the family of one of the victims, a single mom of two, had raised nearly $2.3 million as of Saturday morning.
Suspect entered spa an hour before the shootings, video shows
Surveillance video released Friday shows the suspect in the killings leaving the spa where the first shootings are believed to have taken place.
The video, obtained by the Associated Press, shows 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long leaving Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, 30 minutes north of Atlanta, and getting into his vehicle.
Four people were fatally shot at the location and another person wounded. Four others were killed at two other spa locations in the Atlanta area.
Other video footage, obtained by the Washington Post, indicates Long, 21, spent an hour outside Young’s before entering the spa. An hour and 12 minutes later, he is seen exiting the location and getting into his car before police arrive, the newspaper said.
More details about the suspect have been emerging. Records released to USA TODAY on Friday indicated that Long had been kicked out of his parents’ home the day before the shooting and was “emotional.”
Long had also recently been furloughed from his job at a trade show business due to COVID-19, the report said.
On Wednesday, police said that Long had indicated he committed the shootings because of a sex addiction.
Spas had been targets of police stings
Police records showed that officers had targeted two of the spas numerous times over the last decade in prostitution stings, appearing to contradict Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ statement this week that, aside from a minor potential theft, they had not been a police concern.
Federal investigators so far have not found evidence that clears the high bar for federal hate crime charges against Long, the Associated Press reports, citing two law enforcement officials.
Nevertheless, experts have said the killings are inextricably connected to racism and hate. The shooting comes amid a recent spike in incidents of hate, discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by politicians’ racist rhetoric, said Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks such incidents.
Those killed Tuesday were Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Xiaojie Tan, 49, who owned Young’s.
The events Tuesday began late that afternoon, when authorities say Long first opened fire at Young’s before driving 30 miles into Atlanta and killing four more people at two businesses: Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa. Police believe he was headed to Florida, where he meant to target additional spas, when he was taken into custody about 150 miles south of Atlanta.
Reverberations from the incident are being felt throughout the country, especially among Asian Americans who feel a sense of vulnerability and are fearful of heading out amid the spike in anti-Asian incidents. In a report released this week before the Atlanta killings, Stop AAPI Hate said it recorded nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents – including harassment, discrimination and acts of violence – between mid-March 2020 and late February 2021.
Kay Kim, a longtime resident of Savannah who attends a local Asian church, said her whole congregation is scared. In conversation, she oscillates between feeling anxiety about the recent violent events, but also faith that the world is still beautiful.
“It’s senseless,” said Kim — a word she falls back on repeatedly.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she says. “It’s a beautiful America, a blessed country. We shouldn’t ruin it with these kinds of acts.”
Contributing: Nancy Guan, Savannah Morning News; The Associated Press
Who were the victims?What we know about the 8 people killed in the Atlanta area spa shootings