ATLANTA — After a week of pain, fear and mourning, Georgia’s capital city hosted a downtown march and rally on Saturday to protest the killing of eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, by a gunman who targeted three Atlanta-area massage businesses.
Hundreds of activists chanted, “Stop Asian hate,” as they departed Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta, bound for the State Capitol, where they would link up with hundreds more for a rally in the wake of a shooting spree that left eight people dead.
The roaming demonstration kicked off after a series of speeches and tracked along downtown sidewalks, past movie sets and the transit station.
Bobbing picket signs and using megaphones, activists shouted messages like, “Asians are not a virus.”
The protest was billed as a #StopAsianHate event that would allow people to “come together to grieve, heal and support.”
Around midday, the crowd from Woodruff Park joined hundreds of people gathered in Liberty Plaza, in the shadow of Georgia’s Gold Dome.
State Representative Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American to be elected to the Georgia legislature, lamented on Saturday that the victims of the shootings “had no one in their community to watch their back, and we are left with deep rage and grief and sorrow.” Lawmakers, she said, must enact changes to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated.
Senator Raphael Warnock said, “We need reasonable gun reform.” He added that stronger hate-crime laws were needed.
Senator Jon Ossoff echoed those sentiments, adding, “Let’s build a state and a nation where you can register to vote the day of an election, but you can’t buy a gun the day you plan to kill.”
At Liberty Plaza, many people who were there said this was their first protest. Before Tuesday, Elisa Park, 54, from Marietta kept her head down when she heard of or experienced anti-Asian sentiment.
“I was staying in silence for a while, you know, sweep it away, keep head down, work hard,” she said. “But not this time.”
Ms. Park said she came to the rally to put pressure on lawmakers to stop the violence against Asians. Ms. Park added that she was not the only one to live in heightened fear since the shooting. Her co-workers and single female friends of Asian descent, she said, are afraid to simply walk their dog alone.
This is Ms. Park’s first protest. Her aunt was afraid for her safety, Ms. Park said. She didn’t know what to expect but she was moved by the sea of people who came out in support.
“It’s not just Asians here, there are African-American people, white people, Latino people,” she said. “It’s really empowering.”
Saturday was also the first protest for 11-year-old Hemming Li as well as his mother, Wen Zhou, 40, from Forsyth County.
The two of them, as well as Hemming’s father, family friend and 6-year-old sister, took an hourlong drive to the rally to express their anger over Tuesday’s acts of violence and the handling of it by the police handling.
- Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
- A torrent of hate and violence against Asian-Americans around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
- In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
Hemming and his sister held up signs they had made together days earlier that read, “Stop Asian Hate” in blue marker.
Ms. Zhou said she never would have imagined protesting with her family but the murders of Asian immigrant mothers hit too close to home.
“The event that happened recently makes us feel unsafe,” she said.
The protest comes a day after President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited with Asian-American community leaders in a city that is still reeling from Tuesday’s attacks. “We were reminded, yet again, that the crises we face are many — that the foes we face are many,” Ms. Harris said in a speech after the meeting on Friday.
She added: “Racism is real in America and it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and always has been. Sexism, too.”
Mr. Biden noted that the investigation into the attack was ongoing, and that he and Ms. Harris were being “regularly updated” by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Christopher A. Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Whatever the motivation, we know this: Too many Asian-Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying, waking up each morning the past year feeling their safety and the safety of their loved ones are at stake,” Mr. Biden said in his own remarks.
At the rally on Saturday, Jane Zhong, 60, from East Cobb, a first-time protester, wore a white tea flower as part of a Chinese tradition to commemorate those who passed away.
For Ms. Zhong, the death of one of the spa shooting victims, Xiaojie Tan, hit too close to home. Both of them are Chinese immigrants and mothers with a daughter who graduated from college last year.
“I knew I had to show up,” she said.
Ms. Zhong, who heard about the rally through WeChat, a Chinese messenger service, said, “I’m here to express my anger.”