There was concern and fear in Boston's Asian community Wednesday, after a series of shootings at three Georgia spas left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent.
“We’re actually getting attacked for what we look like,” said Jerica Xu, a Chinese-American student at Boston University. “I’m more worried for elders in our community, like my parents. I feel like my English is fine so I can maybe protect myself or defend myself if I needed.”
Community leaders in Boston say Asian people have been dealing with a surge in hate crimes since the beginning of the pandemic -- the virus was first identified in China.
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Last year, hate crimes against Asian Americans surged while hate crimes overall declined, researchers in California recently found. Last week, federal legislation was reintroduced to fight COVID-related hate crimes.
“When somebody comes out and says, 'It’s the Chinese virus,' it is embedded in people’s minds,” said Debbie Ho, the executive director of Chinatown Main Streets in Boston.
She said she believes the Georgia shootings were yet another manifestation of anti-Asian sentiment.
“I believe the person was there not only to hurt the people, which he did; he was there to hurt the businesses,” Ho said.
Terms like “China virus” and “Wuhan flu” can lead to great harm, said Melissa Borja, a University of Michigan history professor and Harvard fellow who researches hate crime against the Asian community.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen over the past year some politicians using stigmatizing rhetoric that scapegoats Asian and Asian-American people for the coronavirus,” said Borja. “I don’t know what is in the mind of the person who killed those women last night, but we do know, from the perspective of Asian-American women, this is a scary and sad time, and we are afraid.”
She called it "a really hard and difficult time to be Asian American."
Emily Keiser said her family has felt anti-Asian sentiment in the form of microaggressions.
"It's really sad and really scary," she said. "My mom has experienced some of it even just going to a grocery store. She'll see people avoid her."
More on the Georgia Shootings
Community leaders said they will be stepping up their efforts to keep people as safe as possible, reminding them to always be aware of their surroundings. They’re working on flyers and a community meeting as well.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is running to be the first woman or person of color to be elected mayor of Boston, current Mayor Marty Walsh and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins were among the local politicians who on Wednesday spoke out about the shootings.