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Deadly attacks at Atlanta-area spas raise new fears for Asian Americans

Less than 24 hours after a series of attacks in the Atlanta area killed 8 people, residents and Asian Americans in particular are dealing with the aftermath. Stephanie Sy reports, and Amna Nawaz speaks with Stephanie Cho, the executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, a national civil rights group, to get reaction on the ground.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The suspect who confessed to a shooting spree at three spas in the Atlanta area was charged with multiple counts of murder. Eight people were killed.

    The attacks have prompted greater anger and fear with the Asian American community in Georgia and around the country.

    Stephanie Sy begins our coverage with this report.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The mass shooting of six Asian women at their place of work and two other white victims is reverberating around the country. The full motive behind the attacks is still unclear.

  • Rodney Bryant:

    We are very early in this investigation. Even though we have made an arrest, there's still a lot more work to be done.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Twenty-one-year-old Robert Aaron Long, now in custody and charged with murder and assault, has admitted to the shootings. Officials in Georgia who are investigating the case with the help of the FBI said he frequently visited massage parlors in the past, and denied his attacks were racially motivated.

  • Jay Baker:

    He does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places. And it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In controversial remarks, Baker commented the murder suspect had a bad day.

  • Jay Baker:

    He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The rampage yesterday began at around 5:00 p.m., some 30 miles South of Atlanta, at Young's Asian Massage. About an hour later, police responded to shootings at two other establishments across from each other in Northeast Atlanta.

    Police say Long was headed for Florida, where he seemed to have planned similar attacks. Even though law enforcement haven't pinned down a racial motive, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the murders raised fears among Asian Americans.

  • Keisha Lance Bottoms:

    Obviously whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that many of the victims, the majority of the victims were Asian. We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That condemnation for anti-Asian violence echoed across the country today, including in Washington:

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    I'm very concerned, because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months. And I think it's very, very troubling.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    On Capitol Hill, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congresswoman Judy Chu, blamed the surge of attacks on former President Trump and his xenophobic rhetoric during the pandemic.

  • Rep. Judy Chu:

    It just brings home to so many Asian Americans that they are fearful of their lives and circumstances where they would otherwise feel safe, in their homes and at their jobs.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate found hate incidents surged by nearly 150 percent in 2020, with Asian American women more than twice as likely to be targeted, this as the Anti-Defamation League issued new findings today that white supremacist propaganda is at a decades-long high.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Stephanie just reported, whatever the suspect's motives turn out to be, Atlanta's Asian American community is already on edge.

    Amna Nawaz picks up the story from here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Less than 24 hours after the attack, Atlanta residents, and Asian Americans in particular, are dealing with the aftermath.

    For more on the reaction on the ground, we're joined by Stephanie Cho. She's the executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice. It's a national civil rights group. She runs their Atlanta office.

    Stephanie, welcome to the "NewsHour." And thanks for making the time.

    So, you're there on the ground. Let's start by just giving us a sense of how last night's attack is impacting people. How are they reacting the day after?

  • Stephanie Cho:

    This morning, we had a community call, and we had about 60 different individuals, including legislators and organizations and individuals, and we were just reeling from it.

    People are scared. People are closing their businesses early. They did last night, and they're looking at doing that again. And it's really creating a shockwave throughout the Asian American community here, but also nationally, and definitely also internationally.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I need to ask you about some things we have learned from the authorities. They held a press conference earlier to update on the suspect's arrest. They say the suspect told police that he had a sexual addiction, he launched these attacks in the form of vengeance.

    And they say that the suspect, despite targeting Asian women and the majority of his victims being Asian women, denied a racial motivation, but that they haven't ruled out bias as a motivation.

    What is your reaction to that?

  • Stephanie Cho:

    I think that's absolutely untrue.

    I think that this person has some smart lawyers and has a good legal team. But this is definitely a systematic approach to racism that's very gender-based. When we see this violence, particularly aimed at Asian American women, it's really about the fetishization of Asian American women.

    And the violence that is occurred and targeted towards these places is very calculated. I don't know how anybody could see it not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We're also speaking at the end of a very long and traumatizing year for Asian Americans across the country.

    We have seen an increase in the number of hate incidents and attacks. That's according to the group STOP AAPI Hate.

    Tell me a little bit about how that's impacted Asian Americans in Georgia.

  • Stephanie Cho:

    I think the hate, unfortunately, and the violence against Asian Americans is not new. It's something that has really been increased over COVID.

    And so the scapegoating of the disease to the Asian American community has really just exacerbated and now is sort of spilling into this moment. I think everybody feared that this would happen with the increase violence that was happening towards Asian Americans. And now it's happening here in Atlanta.

    And so, for us as an organization, even when we were doing work on a voter registration hot line, right, just to give people information about what was happening, we got harassing calls. When our organization was doing work on immigration bills over the past couple of years, because there's anti-immigrant bills every year here for the last 10 years, we get threatening calls.

    This violence has been happening here, particularly in the South, for many, many years. And it is the product of white supremacy. And so we see it as this is — this is the culmination of that. And so we're reeling as a community, but we're are also very strong.

    And we're here to really hold each other and ask for real accountability.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Stephanie, of course, the investigation into last night's attack still continues, including a possible motivation.

    But, really, regardless of what authorities find, what do you worry that the impact of last night's attack will be?

  • Stephanie Cho:

    I think my worry is people not speaking out against the hate, not speaking out, and not wanting to tell people, if they experience harassment, hate, discrimination in any kind of way.

    And, actually, this is the time for us to band together. We have, as an organization, also had a tremendous amount of support. And so I think what we're seeing is actually more and more people are banding together and creating solidarity in this moment and for the future.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we are certainly thinking of you and everyone in Atlanta, and certainly the families of the victims.

    That is Stephanie Cho, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta.

    Thank you very much.

  • Stephanie Cho:

    Thank you.

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