After Atlanta attack that left 8 dead and year of anti-Asian violence, Chicagoans say, ‘We’re just scared’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot decries Atlanta “hate crime” and says Chicago police are boosting patrols in Asian American communities.

SHARE After Atlanta attack that left 8 dead and year of anti-Asian violence, Chicagoans say, ‘We’re just scared’
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Chicago police sit parked near shops around Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood on Wednesday evening after a deadly mass shooting in Atlanta on Tuesday. Eight people were killed in the Georgia shooting, most of whom were women of Asian descent.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A year of anti-Asian vitriol during the coronavirus pandemic and an Atlanta attack Tuesday that left eight people dead — most of them women of Asian descent — have sent terror through Asian American communities, including many who live in Chicago.

“We’re just scared,” said Vicki Chou as she gestured to her Asian American women co-workers at Viet Hoa Plaza in Uptown.

“My daughter just called me [Wednesday morning] and said, ‘Be careful.’”

The news of the Atlanta shooting reminded Lynn Chang of the week of Thanksgiving last year, when a man put a gun up to her car window while she was making a delivery.

Chang doesn’t know why she was targeted in that attack.

She went home after the incident; she didn’t call the police to report it because she didn’t have confidence that they would take her seriously based on a previous experience.

“I’m not OK,” said Chang.

Now, she closes her herbal shop, Tien Thuoc Bac Vinh Hoa in Uptown, before the sun sets so she can make it home before dark.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned the violence in Atlanta in the strongest of terms Wednesday.

“Make no mistake about this. This was a hate crime. It was a hate crime, obviously, against the immediate victims. But, it was a hate crime against our entire Asian and Pacific Islander communities,” Lightfoot said at the start of an unrelated City Hall news conference on the city’s expanded vaccination program.

Lightfoot checked with Chicago Police Supt. David Brown minutes before Wednesday’s news conference and Brown assured her the Chicago Police Department has “no actual intelligence regarding a specific threat” against Asian American communities here in Chicago.

“Nevertheless, the superintendent has directed that our officers remain diligent — and they will,” she said.

“District commanders have initiated outreach with local community leaders, advocates and business owners. … In addition, CPD will increase their presence and patrols in these same communities. … You are not alone. We stand united with you. And if you see something, please say something.”

“This was a crime against Asian women. This was a crime that has [shined] a harsh light on the anti-Asian violence and hateful rhetoric that has been on the rise since COVID-19 became a global pandemic and fanned by the hateful rhetoric of our former president.”

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A couple walks along North Winthrop Avenue near West Argyle Street on Wednesday. Chicago Police Supt. David Brown assured the mayor that the Chicago Police Department has “no actual intelligence regarding a specific threat” against Asian American communities here in Chicago.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lightfoot noted that since the pandemic, Asian Americans have been “hit with an especially vicious wave of racist vitriol,” prompting them and the businesses they own to be “disproportionately targeted and attacked.”

“We have to be better than this in our city, in our state, our country. And in Chicago, we can’t ever give hate any opportunity to take root,” the mayor said.

Robert Aaron Long, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting the women at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. The attack was the sixth mass killing this year in the U.S., and the deadliest since the August 2019 Dayton killing that took the lives of nine people, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

Supt. Brown said the department is “taking the appropriate precautions to keep our residents safe. ... This will include an increase in presence and patrols throughout Chicago neighborhoods” with significant Asian American and Pacific Islander populations.

Dennis Mondero immigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. when he was a kid and wanted to be part of the “American dream and give back to American culture.”

“It’s horrifying,” said Mondero, executive director of Chinese Mutual Aid Association. “... It’s really sad when someone — for whatever reason — that shooter, thought he was above those victims, right? And so he thought he was above women, he thought he was above people of color, and that’s really sad and disappointing and so my heart breaks for those victims and their families.”

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Lynn Chang said she closes her herbal shop in Uptown before the sun sets so she can make it home before dark after she endured a violent confrontation around Thanksgiving.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A new report from the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate documents nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asians and Asian Americans in the past year, with women more than twice as likely to report incidents.

“The number of hate incidents reported to our center represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur, but it does show how vulnerable Asian Americans are to discrimination, and the types of discrimination they face,” the group states in its report.

During a question and answer session Wednesday, Lightfoot was asked why she considers the Atlanta shootings a hate crime.

The mayor replied that the fact that the offender went to three businesses staffed by Asian Americans and “targeted Asian women ... says to me that this wasn’t anything random — that it was intentional. And it feels to me, as a former member of law enforcement, like a hate crime.”

Andy Kang, executive director of the Chicago chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the violence in Atlanta was not surprising.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been expecting something like this for quite some time — since the beginning of the pandemic and rhetoric around blaming Asian Americans,”said Kang, who is Korean American.

He said he would be “very shocked if race and gender did not play a role in these crimes.”

Anti-Asian hate incidents — though not necessarily more serious hate crimes — have been on the rise in the Chicago area since the start of the pandemic, Kang said.

“Under reporting is a chronic problem on this issue,” he said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also discussed the attacks with reporters Wednesday at a news conference in Decatur.

“This is an attack on all of our communities,” Pritzker said, noting that it “comes on the heels of a year in which the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities experienced so much racist scapegoating for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The attack, he continued, “damages the soul of inclusion. The very thing that all of us standing here believe in.”

Blaming one community for a public health crisis “is racist and wrong,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who was born in Thailand, said in a statement.

“While there’s still so much we don’t know about these tragic shootings, we do know that our Asian American community is understandably — and justifiably — outraged after enduring a year of heinous hate crimes and increased discrimination,” Duckworth said.

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who was born in India, also issued a statement calling for an end to hate crimes.

“There is no doubt that this is a frightening time for the Asian-American community because of the hate-motivated violence we’ve witnessed across the country,”he said.

Contributing: Andrew Sullender, Associated Press

Law enforcement officials confer outside a massage parlor following a shooting on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Atlanta.

Law enforcement officials confer outside a massage parlor following a shooting Tuesday in Atlanta.

Associated Press

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