By now, you would have heard about the shootings in Atlanta, in which a 21-year-old man opened fire in three Asian massage parlours, killing eight people. The violent attack has shaken the Asian American community, who for the past year have watched the gradual rise of racism and xenophobia directed towards them.

What happened in Atlanta?

Eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, were shot to death at three separate massage parlours in Atlanta on March 16.

The other two people were White, according to law enforcement. Apart from one, the victims were all women.

A 21-year-old man was taken into custody and has since been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He is White.

He first opened fire at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County at around 5pm, killing four people and wounding another.

At 5.47pm, Atlanta Police were called to Gold Spa, where they found three women dead with gunshot wounds. Police found the body of another woman at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, after they received a report of shots fired.

According to the New York Times, the police have named the victims of the shooting at Young’s Asian Massage as Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

How have the police responded?

At a news conference on Wednesday, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Captain Jay Baker said the 21-year-old understood what he had done when he was interviewed by police.

“He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope,” Baker said.

“Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

He had a bad day, so he murdered eight people. One can’t help but wonder what the police would say of him, if he wasn’t White.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, police told reporters that it was still too early to determine the shooter’s motivation, however they do not believe it was a racially motivated attack.

“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. It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said.

Unsurprisingly, Baker’s words enraged the Asian American community.

On the same day, BuzzFeed published an article about Captain Jay Baker, who had previously shared a photo of a t-shirt he bought on Facebook.

A label on the shirt read, “COVID-19, imported virus from Chy-Na”.

“Love my shirt,” Baker captioned the picture from August 2020.

Whether or not the police want to call the Atlanta shootings a racially motivated attack, they simply cannot deny the rise in racism and violence towards Asians in America over the past year.

The surge in racism, violence, and harassment against Asians in America and beyond

It’s not at all surprising that America, and the rest of the world, have seen a rise in hate and violence against Asian people. America’s former president, the supposed leader of the free world, spent the better half of 2020 referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus”.

Its damaging effects speaks for itself.

Vichar Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, was on a morning walk in his neighbourhood on January 28 when a man violently shoved him to the ground.

He died of a brain haemorrhage two days later.

In February, New York City police arrested a man who violently shoved 52-year-old Lee-Lee Chin-Yeung to the ground outside a business.

He was charged with assault and harassment, but not with a hate crime.

On Wednesday, an elderly Asian woman fought back against a separate assailant in San Francisco, after the suspect allegedly attacked another Asian man in the area.

The woman told San Fransisco TV station KPIX that she had been leaning against a utility pole when the man punched her.

The aftermath of the incident, which was captured on video, shows the 75-year-old woman holding an ice pack to her head.

These are just three examples of recent attacks on Asian Americans.

In Australia, a new report from February found that 84 respondents agreed that multiculturalism has been good for the country. However, it found 47 per cent of respondents held negative views towards Chinese Australians.

Per the ABC, Asian Australians reported the highest level of concern about discrimination, with 39 per cent of respondents born in an Asian country saying discrimination had increased during the pandemic.

Attacks against Asian American women

Following the Atlanta shootings, Dr. Melissa May Borja, a researcher affiliated with the non-profit social organisation, Stop AAPI Hate (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), said it had found that 68 per cent of the attacks on Asian Americans in the past year targeted AAPI women.

“My research team with the Virulent Hate Project found a similar pattern,” she tweeted.

“Analysing 4600+ news articles, we identified 1100+ incidents of anti-Asian racism reported in news media in 2020. Women were the victim in 61 per cent of the incidents.”

Dr. Borja said the incidents varied, and included Asian American women being shoved, beaten, burned, screamed at, spat upon, coughed at, shunned, and subjected to discrimination.

As an Asian American woman, Dr. Borja said none of the research surprised her.

“I have firsthand experience with how my gender and race are used against me.

“There was that time when I was on my way to a business lunch in Washington, DC, and a group of construction workers working on the second floor of a building yelled down at me, ‘Hey little China doll, do a dance for me.'”

While Dr. Borja pointed out that her experiences are nowhere near on the same level as the Atlanta shootings, she said discussions around Asian American violence can’t happen without talking about the “particularly virulent hatred directed toward Asian American women.”

The Atlanta shootings have lead to a much larger conversation about the way society sees Asian women, who have long been hyper-sexualised in Hollywood and popular culture.

As actor Gemma Chan said in an Instagram post about the attacks: “Racism and misogyny are not mutually exclusive.”

Unofficial fashion watchdog, @dietprada, who was co-founded by Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyle, outlined how the depiction of Asian women in the media continues to harm them.

“It’s important now that we understand the type of normalised racism and xenophobia that leads to violence against Asian women specifically,” Diet Prada wrote.

#StopAsianHate

#StopAsianHate and similar hashtags have trended on Twitter and Instagram since the beginning of the year. Asian communities and allies have used it as a challenge to dismantle years and years of racist language and rhetoric in our every day.

Leading Asian American stars have also been using their platforms to condemn xenophobia on every level.

To All The Boys Star Lana Condor called on people to support their Asian friends and family during this time.

Fellow actor Jamie Chung called on the media to do better, “Call it what it is, domestic White terrorism hate crimes against Asians.”

Rapper Rich Brian shared a screenshot of the New York Times’ headline about the Atlanta shootings.

The screenshot on Instagram included the original headline crossed out and replaced with “White Men [sic] Murder Asian Women in Domestic Terrorist Hate Crime”.

Instagram / @brianimanuel

Again, authorities in Atlanta said they do not believe the shootings were racially motivated, but maybe we should listen to the Asian Americans who have been speaking out about rising hate crimes instead.

Image: Getty Images / Alex Wong