JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Members of Jacksonville’s Asian American community are speaking out after a gunman went on a shooting spree at three Atlanta-area massage parlors that killed eight people, six of them women of Asian heritage.
Wen Raiti, who owns the organic restaurant House of Leaf & Bean, said the nation should not only pay attention to minority communities when tragedies, such as Tuesday’s violence, strike.
Instead, she said, we should create inclusive spaces to learn from each other and take steps to keep one another safe.
Raiti, who started her business after moving from China to the U.S. three years ago, said 2020 was the most challenging year since her arrival because of the pandemic and stigma it placed on her native country.
“When the pandemic was going on, I had that fear behind my back,” Raiti said.
That fear was only amplified when she saw the news about Tuesday’s mass shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, is white and most of the slain shooting victims were of Asian descent.
Authorities said Long told investigators the violence had nothing to do with race, but rather was a response to what he called a sex addiction. But authorities have not ruled out race or xenophobia as a motive behind the shootings.
Raiti stopped short of calling the violence a hate crime but acknowledged that xenophobia could have played a role. “I would think it in some way and somehow it has an element in it,” she told News4Jax during an interview Thursday.
Sharol Noblejas, who chairs Mayor Lenny Curry’s Asian American Advisory Board, issued a statement to News4Jax expressing the panel’s condolences for the victims of Tuesday’s shootings and condemning hate toward Asian Americans:
The City of Jacksonville Mayor’s Asian American Advisory Board is deeply saddened at the rise of attacks against Asian Americans, most recently of the 6 Asians that were killed in Atlanta. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families, as well as any other Asians that have experienced attacks because of their ethnicity. Hate crimes, discrimination or harassment against Asian Americans should not be tolerated and should be reported.Mayor's Asian American Advisory Board
According to Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit group that monitors discrimination and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, nearly 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents have been reported in the last year.
Tuesday’s violence prompted a congressional hearing Thursday to address pain in the Asian American community. It was an emotional day as lawmakers explained to their peers their own experiences and called for action.
“While the investigation is ongoing and we wait for more information, this comes during a time when violence and attacks against Asian Americans are on the rise,” U.S. Rep. Young Kim, R-California, said. “The hate, the bias, and the attacks that we’ve seen against the Asian American community are unacceptable and they must be stopped.”
Raiti said everyone must work together to be the inclusive country that welcomed her three years ago.
“Regardless of what happened, it’s a life,” Raiti. “I don’t know them, but they are my brother and sister. We love this country, we contribute our talents and our expertise to our community.”
Noblejas said Asian Americans who are victims of harassment or hate crimes in Jacksonville would have the same options as any other crime victims. She said those who have faced discrimination or harassment can report it to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which is empowered to investigate those complaints. The HRC can be reached at 904-255-5397.
But, she said, any incident that involves a hate crime or criminal behavior should be reported to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which has a unit that deals with hates crimes, or any other appropriate law enforcement agency. The non-emergency line for JSO is 904-630-0500.