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Atlanta Killings 'Devastating' To Asians In North Carolina

Vigils are planned in Raleigh and Charlotte for victims of the Atlanta shootings.

A series of shootings in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, includingsix women of Asian descent, has sent shockwaves through North Carolina's Asian communities. While authorities here say there's no sign of increased violence against Asians, people are concerned.

The Atlanta shootings came amid a rise in reports of attacks or harassment of Asians nationwide. Police say a suspect, Robert Alan Long, confessed to the shootings. But he says it wasn't race-related. Whatever his motive, the incident hits many in the Asian community hard.

"It's devastating. I think there's been a long history of anti-Asian violence in this country. And for me, I see this as part of that," said Cat Bao Le, of the Charlotte group SEAC Village, which includes Asians and other people of color.

"There's a lot of things swirling around in my head, about what happened and its connection to systemic violence within our society, that allows, accepts and even perpetuates this type of violence," Le said.

Asians and Asian Americans across the state share her concerns. Chavi Khanna Koneru said she's reeling from the news.

Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of N.C. Asian Americans Together
N.C. Asian Americans Together
Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of N.C. Asian Americans Together

"On a personal level, it is devastating, Koneru said. "It just hits really close to home, given that this happened in the South, in what I think of as like a neighboring community."

Koneru is executive director of the Raleigh-based North Carolina Asian Americans Together. She co-founded the group in 2016 to build community and increase political participation among the state's Asians. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, they've also been monitoring national trends and documenting local cases of discrimination.

"I think the reasons are fairly obvious," Koneru said. "We had a president who is referring to COVID as the 'Chinese virus,' the 'Wuhan virus,' and quite directly blaming a certain population for the pandemic and what Americans are having to live through"

A Pew Research Center survey last summer found that about 3in 10 Asian Americans nationwide (31%) reported experiencing racial slurs or racist jokes since the start of the pandemic.

And a national report this week from the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate reporting center at San Francisco State University found nearly 3,800 incidents since March 2020. Most were verbal or psychological harassment, but about 11% of incidents nationwide were physical assaults. Twenty-four incidents were in North Carolina.

In Charlotte, CMPD spokesman Lt. Steve Fischbach said Wednesday there's no sign of that trend.

"We have not seen an increase in the last few months," Fischbach said. "But that doesn't mean that we need to let our guards down. And that goes to the police department, as well as the community. We all need to keep an eye out for each other and be aware of the fact that what happened in Atlanta can happen anywhere."

John Chen
Sarafina Wright
John Chen

And John Chen, chairman of the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not aware of any anti-Asian incidents in the Charlotte area.

"I’ve spoken to several groups: The Chinese association, Vietnamese, the Indians and also indirectly from the refugee community. They have not heard anything that’s reportable from the Charlotte area," Chen said.

Still, there may be gaps in reporting and data collection because of fears of the police, Le said.

"A lot of immigrants just do not feel safe in calling the police for anything, because there's layers of systemic violence that people face when they do," she said.

So were the Atlanta shootings hate crimes? The suspect says no, and police say he may have been a customer at businesses where he shot people. Koneru said there always seem to be people willing to come up with other explanations. She compared this case to an incident in Chapel Hill in 2015, where a white man killed three Muslims.

"Ultimately the 'motive' was this person being mad about a parking spot or whatever. Right. We all know that there's more going on beneath the surface," Koneru said. "And I think that if we're actually going to address it and want some actual change, we have to call it what it is — which is a hate crime."

Vigils are planned in Raleigh and Charlotte for victims of the Atlanta shootings. Cat Bao Le says there's so much heaviness and devastation, people need a place to share.

Ann Doss Helms and Dante Miller contributed to this story.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.