A year after deadly spa shootings, Asian Americans continue to face physical, verbal abuse

It was one year ago this week since a mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent. Amna Nawaz reports on how attacks against Asian Americans have continued across the U.S. and speaks with Erika Moritsugu, a deputy assistant to President Biden and the Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison at the White House, to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today marks one year since a mass shooting at three Atlanta area spas left eight people dead. Six of them were women of Asian descent.

    As Amna Nawaz reports, attacks against Asian Americans have continued.

    This story is part of our occasional series, Race Matters.

  • And a warning:

    It contains some graphic images.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Surveillance video captured what police called a brutal hate crime. On Friday, a man punched a 67-year-old Asian woman 125 times as she entered her apartment building.

  • Yonkers Police Commissioner John Mueller:

  • John Mueller, Yonkers, New York, Police Commissioner:

    I think that is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to watch in my own nearly 30-year career, I mean, 120-plus punches, seven stomps, and then he ended up spitting on her. So it's just — it's really hard to watch.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The suspect was arrested. The victim is recovering in the hospital. It is the latest in a surge of attacks against Asian Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

    Almost 11,000 incidents, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault, were reported between March of 2020 and December of last year. Nearly 60 percent of violent attacks happened in New York City and urban areas of California.

    Last month, 35-year-old Korean American Christina Yuna Lee was stabbed to death in her Manhattan apartment. In January, 40-year-old Chinese American Michelle Alyssa Go was killed after being pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City. Police have not called Go or Lee's killings hate crimes. Still, Asian Americans were left reeling.

    Also in January, 61-year-old Yao Pan Ma died from injuries he sustained when he was attacked while collecting cans in New York. And the violence continues.

  • Michael Chen, Content Creator:

    How I almost died in New York City.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In a recent post to his followers, teenage content creator Michael Chen described how a man stabbed him outside a New York City restaurant on Saturday.

  • Michael Chen:

    From behind, he just smacks my neck with some knife. And there it is now.

  • Protestor:

    Break the…

  • Protestors:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today, remembrances and rallies to combat anti-Asian hate were held across the country on this, the first anniversary of the mass shooting at three Atlanta area spas.

    For more on this, I'm joined by Erika Moritsugu. She is a deputy assistant to the president and the Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison at the White House. She is in Atlanta today to mark the anniversary of those spa shootings.

    Erika Moritsugu, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.

    That year, the year since that attack has been so awful for so many. I have heard from people. They are scared. They are buying pepper spray. They don't want to let their elders out alone or at night. They feel nowhere is safe, and not enough is being done to keep them safe.

    So, what can you say to those Asian Americans? What are you doing in your role to try to keep them safe?

    Erika Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian-American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison: Yes, that's — thank you, Amna.

    It's extraordinary to be here in Atlanta today with the grieving family and the local community on behalf of the president and the vice president. I came here to be in solidarity with them and to let them know that the president and the vice president don't just continue to talk about their trip here this time last year. They think about it all the time.

    And that was one thing that was a marker to honor the victims, to be with the families and the local community members, and also to talk to them openly about measures that the president or vice president have taken, what more needs to be done — we know that more needs to be done — and also to listen about what it is that they need to restore from the trauma that they're facing.

    The listening piece is important, to know that they have a point of access to the policy-makers, but also just sit in quiet fellowship and solidarity with them, because this is about the families that are still grieving. And this is about a community, a local community that's still in trauma.

    But Atlanta's murders last year was also a national moment. And the impact of those shootings shook the Asian American community to its very core and reverberated across the nation, which is why the president and the vice president traveled to meet with Asian American community leaders last year. And their commitment and our work continue today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What are some of the solutions, from your role? Is it more police? Is it more help for people who need mental health support? Is it — what is the combination of things that you think need to go into place now that aren't already there?

  • Erika Moritsugu:

    So, definitely, in terms of the mental health crisis.

    And that was part of the president's State of the Union national unity agenda address, where we have got a lot of programs and policies that are going to roll out in the wake of that. Police need more training about reporting and collecting data and building trust with community members, particularly in the Asian American community, where there are language barriers, where there's a trust barrier, which is why we also fund community-based programs to make sure that it's more comfortable, that there are safe, trusted faces for folks to go to when they need help.

    And then we also have a widespread gun violence epidemic as well. And you have heard the president and the vice president speak about that a lot. And that was a big part of this morning's discussion with the community leaders and the family members, the family members in particular.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you this as well, though.

    When you look at the numbers, that 11,000 number that we cited earlier is alarming. But we should also note that there have been more attacks, more of those reported attacks in 2021 than there were in 2020. And I know, previously, a lot of people cited previous President, former President Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric he used as part of the reason we were seeing that anti-Asian sentiment being fueled.

    But he's gone. So why is it getting worse today than it was before?

  • Erika Moritsugu:

    And it preceded him too, Amna.

    This is — I mean, it's caught the imaginations of the general public because of the trauma of the shoot — of the murders last year and a lot of the incidents that we have seen and the deadly incidents, particularly against Asian American women in New York City, with the tragic murders of four Asian women, two murders of Asian women just earlier this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that we have barely heard anything about, and then, of course, the horrible beating in Yonkers.

    All of this isn't a surprise to Asian American women, who, like, live in the intersection of racism and misogyny, and have for over 100 years, starting with the Page Act that preceded the Chinese Exclusion Act, where Chinese women were not allowed to immigrate to the United States.

    What it has done is, it's surfaced and it continues unabated, yes, because it's not something — you can't legislate away hate in people's heart. And so what we try to do is build more of a community-oriented and point of outreach and points of access to the federal government agencies in the regions and also from the — from Washington, D.C., when we can, to make sure that we're implementing measures that are solutions in the moment, because we are in a crisis.

    And it — and you're right. These — the shocking deaths, even if we don't hear about them all the time, continue to persist.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Erika, you're in the White House. You are in the center of power, right?

    And we should mention you're there because of a fight over representation. Senator Tammy Duckworth and others were angry that President Biden had failed to name a single person of Asian descent to his statutory Cabinet. And this role was created. You are defining it as you go.

    You're nearly one year in. So, I have to ask, what's been the hardest part? And what does success look like for you in this role?

  • Erika Moritsugu:

    The hardest part, I think, is to recognize and to surface the fact that a lot of the animating structural problems that give rise to this — the violence and the hatred that has continued unabated for the past couple of years, to see how deeply entrenched that is.

    I think success is to be able to do several things at the same time in an inclusive way that makes sure that it's impactful, and that it's sustainable too, because, once this crisis is over, we need to be resilient to withstand the next crisis as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Erika Moritsugu, deputy assistant to the president and the Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison at the White House.

    Erika, thank you so much for your time.

  • Erika Moritsugu:

    Thank you so much, Amna.

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