Annenberg Radio

Why Atlanta hit so hard: The deeper reasons behind one of the largest responses in Asian American history

The stories of the Atlanta spa shooting victims were very telling of the Asian immigrant experience, ones that so many Asian Americans could deeply relate to.

On March 16th, a white man committed three separate shootings in three massage parlors in Atlanta. 8 people lost their lives, including 6 Asian women. The Korea Times Atlanta cited a source as saying a spa worker heard the shooter say he intended to ‘kill all Asians.’

The Atlanta murders sparked a series of actions within and in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Annenberg Media’s Pranav Iyer explores the deeper reasons behind the transcendental movement.

The Atlanta Spa shootings moved Asian Americans to action... like no other event in history.

James An is the president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles. He witnessed the L-A riots of 1992, and saw first-hand how the city ignored the Korean community’s cries for help during those riots.


“I remember I was 12 years old when that happened and I remember our community just being burned down to the ground. ... We were ignored back then, but we’re not going to be ignored this time. You are going to listen to us.”

But what caused this specific event to strike such a nerve within the A-A-P-I community?

For many, it was the life stories of the victims and their families that hit so close to home. Chinese Canadian entrepreneur Helen Yin portrayed exactly that message via Tik Tok in March, after the shootings in Atlanta.


“I’ll tell you one reason why Asians are mourning right now for these moms that are not their own. We know our parents don’t live for themselves, they live for us. They leave behind their own parents, work until they can’t, eat our leftovers, and give everything they have to us. It crushes my soul when my mom tells me that she feels old because it’s unimaginable to think that her life could end without having really started.”

While many shared their grief and support online, many more took actions within their local communities in-person.

March… saw a “Stop Asian Hate” rally in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley… It’s home to one of the largest Asian populations in the country... Betty Hang is in her twenties… She organized the rally… Hundreds of people came out to make their voices heard….


“...And actually one of them had a sign that said what if it was my mom and that’s something that I also really relate to because my mom works as a nail technician. I think that that touched home for a lot of people who came to either attend the event or see themselves. ... There are these things that touch home for us because we never know who’s going to be the next target...

It wasn’t just the gruesome murders that led them to action. It was the ways law enforcement and local governments seemingly trivialized the shooter’s motive.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Cherokee County sheriff’s office spokesman Jay Baker said that….


Yesterday was a bad day for him.

According to Baker, this was why the shooter shot up three different Asian-owned businesses. To this day, the incident has not been classified as a hate crime.

To many, this was only too similar to the case of Vincent Chin’s murder in 1982. A Chinese American man who was killed in Michigan by two white men, in what was clearly a racially motivated attack. The two were given lenient sentences and this too was never classified as a hate crime.

For USC student, Lela Ni, this narrative is all too familiar.


“It’s something that I think I feel a little more palpably than other people because my grandfather was murdered in New York in 2014. And his murder was not classified legally as a hate crime. In the press hearing from the police department in Atlanta saying that that guy calling it, just a white man having a bad day. That is absolutely insulting.”

And on March 18, the F-B-I director said the Atlanta shooting was probably motivated by a sex addiction rather than racial hate. But, this statement was soon questioned by senators Raphael Warnock and Tammy Duckworth, the latter of whom is one of the two Asian American women in the senate. On C-B-S’s “Face the Nation” last March, Duckworth said…


”We need a deeper investigation.”

And many are asking for the federal government to take action. An and his KAFLA team wrote a letter to the White House. The letter demanded the government create a task force... to support victims of A-A-P-I hate crimes. That task force was created by President Biden’s executive order.

In April, the senate passed an anti-hate crimes bill aimed at addressing the surge in attacks on Asian Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But despite the promises of Federal and local governments to curb A-A-P-I hate, the community is still in grief and in anger. They are still taking the streets to have their demands, and their voices, heard. For them, this nation needs a reckoning with the deep-rooted anti-AAPI racism in our daily lives… They continue to hold rallies… Jonathan Chan is one of hundreds of Asian Americans who attend them… Chan is a Program Coordinator at Pitzer College…


“For those women to have been killed in a space in which they were just trying to provide for their families without ever being seen as anything more than manacurists and those in the service industry. To know that that that is what they’ve had to face, not only their violent murder but also their silencing.”

To truly tackle A-A-P-I hate, Chan and others say it will take a fundamental change to the way we, the nation, view and interact with the community to tackle the source of the hate.

For Annenberg Media, I’m Pranav Iyer.