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In Wake Of Deadly Georgia Shooting, Chicagoans Are Combating Anti-Asian Violence Nationwide: ‘Be Part Of The Solution’

Local groups are organizing a rally for unity with Asian Chicagoans and training sessions so bystanders can learn how to intervene when people are being harassed amid a national rise in anti-Asian violence.

A Just Chi Immigrant Justice working alongside the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community at a volunteer event in September.
Asians Americans Advancing Justice/Facebook
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CHICAGO — Chicago’s Asian community and allies are standing up to combat the rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent after a man killed eight people, including six Asian women, Tuesday in Georgia.

The attacker in the Georgia shootings, which occurred at three spas in two areas, confessed and has been charged with murder and assault, according to NPR.

Violence targeting Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has a long history in the United States, but it has spiked over the past year amid racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. A hate tracker from Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, found there were nearly 3,800 incidents of hate crimes reported nationally March 2020-February 2021. Women of Asian descent reported more than twice as many incidents of violence as men.

The tracker reported 92 incidents in Illinois, making it the seventh-most reported state in the country.

There’s no known threat to Asian and Pacific Islanders in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday. But she said the shootings were a hate crime that show how anti-Asian violence is on the rise.

“Asian people are being disproportionately targeted and attacked, their businesses have been damaged and they’re having to deal with the ravages of COVID,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference. “We have to be better than this in our city, in our state and our country.”

But Tuesday’s shootings — one of which happened in a small town outside Atlanta — have many reeling and questioning their safety.

“Seeing this happen in a smaller city is a shock and worry that it’s coming to other communities, as well,” said Grace Chan McKibben, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community in Chinatown. “Thankfully, we have not seen the number of incidents and violence [in Chicago, but I am] worried about other communities in Chicago.” 

Chan McKibben said the shooting has sent ripples through the local Asian community and perpetuates the negative stereotypes of and misogyny toward Asian women, who have suffered from a long history of hypersexualization and violence, especially those in the massage and beauty industries. The women killed Tuesday worked in massage parlors.

“What we have been saying all along is the crimes don’t get much attention because they see us as ‘the other,’ because these women are in an industry people don’t want to talk about,” she said.

Chan McKibben said Asian women in the industry deserve more respect and spas need to be seen as professional, legitimate businesses — and anti-Asian hate toward women needs to stop, no matter their profession. 

She wants to make sure the women killed in the Georgia shooting will be remembered and humanized, not further stereotyped. 

“We have to tell the life story of the victims of those killed,” she said. “They were bodyworkers, maybe even sex workers, [but we need] to emphasize the humanity of the victims — for any group, but especially groups of color.”

The Police Department said it is taking precautions to keep residents safe by increasing police presence in predominantly Asian communities. 

“Our district commanders are working with local community leaders, advocates and business owners throughout Chicago’s [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community to reinforce our commitment to protecting the lives, rights, and property of all people in Chicago,” department spokespeople said in a statement.

Credit: Facebook
A member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice at a protest against cash bail in September 2020.

‘We Are Proud To Be Americans’

Local Asian advocacy groups have recorded minimal verbal harassment in Chicago and no physical attacks in the past year, said Catherine Shieh, the anti-hate training coordinator for Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Chicago chapter in Uptown. But she said harassment throughout Illinois is likely under-reported.

“There’s a lot of under-reporting happening, especially knowing the fact that in the Asian American community, language access is one of the big policy issues,” said Shieh, who is Taiwanese American. “Oftentimes, reporting happens in English, with English language of what a hate crime or hate incident is, so we know that we’re being undercounted.”

Shieh’s organization worked with other groups to launch bystander intervention training to combat the increase in hate crimes and discrimination toward the Asian and Pacific Islander community. 

During the pandemic, Shieh has conducted 70 training sessions and trained about 1,000 people. She said the demand has skyrocketed, and the organization recently added 25 sessions. People who wish to participate can register online.

Shieh said it’s been refreshing to see people from all over the world participate in the AAAJ Chicago trainings and address Asian discrimination in their communities. She said the organization plans to add even more bystander sessions in response to the Georgia shootings.

“A lot of people are itching for tangible action, and that’s what we have to offer,” she said. “It is very cool to see how people want to be integrated into this work.”

Shootings like the ones in Georgia have historically targeted groups of color, which is why standing up to racism and knowing how to be an ally is incredibly important, said Sufyan Sohel, deputy director of CAIR-Chicago, which helped AAAJ Chicago roll out the bystander trainings. 

“These communities have a sense of fear and a sense of not belonging and worrying if they are next,” Sohel said of violence on the Asian community.

Sohel said the trainings can create unity among Asian and non-Asian groups and teach people how to protect themselves from harassment, how to interact with law enforcement, what their rights are and how bystander intervention can help individuals and communities. 

Dennis J. Mondero, executive director of the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Uptown, said his agency is working on an awareness campaign regarding anti-Asian violence and racism. That includes talking with police officials about any possible threats to the Asian community and making sure officers are taking the problem seriously.

“It’s horrifying,” Mondero said of the violence in Georgia. “It’s a concern. It has a chilling effect. Folks don’t want to leave” their homes.

In times like these, Mondero said it is important to champion and uplift the voices of Asian Americans in an effort to combat racism.

“We are proud to be Americans,” he said. “It’s important to share the things we’re contributing to the fabric of the United States.”

‘Be Part Of A Solution’

The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community planned a rally to address the increase in hate crimes before the Georgia shootings. The rally only holds more weight now, said Chan McKibben, who organized the event along with more than 50 Asian Chicagoland organizations. 

The rally is scheduled for 2 p.m. March 27 outside the Chinatown public library, 2100 S. Wentworth Ave. Organizers will call for unity, visibility and an end to violence.

Chan McKibben said she hopes more Chicago justice groups join. So far, the American Jewish Committee Chicago has pledged its support.

Shieh said she hopes the Georgia shooting is a wake-up call of sorts for folks to address anti-Asian sentiment. She wants more resources from the government so social justice initiatives — like the bystander training — can be more accessible.

“How much violence for Asians and Asian Americans needs to occur for people to realize that maybe we’re worth caring about?” she said. “We need a lot more support, we need more funding … we need to make sure we have police accountability and big policy reforms.”

Even though there is still a long way to go in terms of equal visibility for the Asian American community and combating racism, Shieh credits Black Lives Matter protests, locally and nationally, for the increased activism and interest in the bystander sessions. 

“A year ago, if I said ‘white supremacy,’ people would probably think I was trying to make enemies,” Shieh said. “Now, if I don’t say ‘white supremacy,’ people think I am not addressing the problem enough. Things have really shifted in talking about race and identity. It’s something a lot of people are itching for [and] trying to make sense of something and be part of a solution.” 

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