A man is shown in blurred focus walking past a digital sign that says, 'open 7' and glass beneth it with the sign for Gold Spa in the reflection.

A man walks past the front of the Gold Spa massage parlor in Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, March 17, 2021, the day after multiple people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area.

Credit:

Ben Gray/AP

Shootings at three Atlanta-area spas last night left 8 people dead; six of the victims were Asian women. Police believe all shootings were committed by the same person who is in custody.

The attacks come as violence against Asian Americans is on the rise nationwide. Dr. Michelle Au is a state senator in Georgia, who stepped off the floor of the chamber floor to speak with us.

TRANSCRIPT:

Marco Werman:
Last night, horrific violence in the Atlanta area. A gunman opened fire at three massage parlors, killing eight people. Six of them were Asian women. Details about the crime are still emerging, but it happened as violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise in the United States. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke today: she said to the Asian American community, we stand with you.

Vice President Kamala Harris:
Knowing the the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them and acknowledge that none of us should ever be silent in the face of any form of hate.

Marco Werman:
The 21-year-old man captured in the attacks has confessed. He claims the shootings were not racially motivated. Dr. Michelle Au is a state senator in Georgia and stepped off the floor of the chamber to speak with us. I asked her how she and other people in Atlanta are feeling today.

Dr. Michelle Au:
I am shaken and shocked, but also not surprised. These types of incidents targeting the Asian-American community have been on the rise. It's a little bit early in this investigation, so I don't want to be irresponsible in ascribing any particular motive to this particular attack until we have more information. But just to be clear, I'm talking about, in general, the bigger picture that we've had a huge rise in violent acts, discriminatory acts against Asian Americans. And in this milieu, having this incident happen in our communities really shakes people to their core and people are scared.

Marco Werman:
So, as you said, we don't know the motive of the alleged shooter of the attack. But this incident, do you think it's going to heighten the fear that has already been felt in the Asian American/Pacific Islander community?

Dr. Michelle Au:
I think so, especially in this area. This is something that's been on the rise for the past year, really coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic hitting our shores. Really not until the past month or so have we started to see increased media coverage of the sort of heightened discriminatory and violent behavior towards Asian Americans. However, most of the news stories have been focused on incidents that have taken place in New York, in California, particularly LA and in the Bay Area, where there's a higher number of Asian American residents. Obviously, Georgia has somewhat fewer Asian Americans, but we should not discount how many Asians do live here. There's a significant and growing AAPI population here, and we should be aware that we're not immune to these same problems that we're seeing nationally. So I think that having this incident happen and having it be so violent and fatal really brings things home that these are problems we're facing all over the nation, even right here in Georgia.

Marco Werman:
Is there a particular concern in the Atlanta, Georgia, area that you're focused on?

Dr. Michelle Au:
What I would like to focus on is, first of all, raising awareness that this is a problem at all, right? I think that racism and discrimination against Asian Americans is vastly under-covered. I think that people don't appreciate the scope of this problem. And even when I talk about these incidents being on the rise in the last year, that's a new chapter to a very old story. These are types of events and things that we've seen over many, many years over the history of America, honestly. So what I would like to do just to start is to A; raise awareness of it regionally so that we can increase safety for our communities and B; make it so that people in the community feel safer reporting these incidents, because I think that even of the incidents that we have seen, that's a small fraction of the types of crimes and discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans that are taking place.

Marco Werman:
I mean, just the day before this horror occurred, you spoke before the Georgia legislature saying your community needed protection. Are you getting it? And how are police responding, in your view, to this terrible incident?

Dr. Michelle Au:
I want to be careful in saying that this issue does not necessarily get fixed solely by an increased police presence. And I think that sometimes people in our communities might be a little bit anxious about seeing an increased police presence because there is some anxiety around people trusting the police, people not feeling safe reporting to the police. I think that's some of why a lot of these incidents have been underreported. So I think it has to be a multifactorial fix. I do think that increased law enforcement attention to this issue is going to help make our communities safer. However, we do have to hit it from a lot of different ways and including increasing awareness just by Asian leaders speaking out about it. And making people have lots of avenues to report these incidents so we can track them and have the data to know how to deal with it more effectively.

Marco Werman:
Dr. Michelle Au, a Georgia state senator, in between votes at the Georgia State House. Thank you for your thoughts.

Dr. Michelle Au:
Thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

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