In Wake of Atlanta Killings, Md. Leaders Implore Asian Communities to Speak Out

Protestors hold signs that read "hate is a virus" and "stop Asian hate" at the End The Violence Towards Asians rally in New York City in February. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, violence towards Asian Americans has increased at a much higher rate than previous years. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images.

When Maryland Del. Lily Qi (D-Montgomery) first heard about the shootings of six Asian women at spas in the Atlanta area this week, she immediately reached out to Montgomery County’s Chief of Police Marcus Jones.

Jones called back the next morning, reassuring Qi that police were monitoring things locally. Qi suggested adding bilingual liaisons within the police department for the Asian-American community.

“The anxiety and fear level is high,” Qi, who grew up in China, said in a phone interview. “We want to be preemptive.”

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s shootings at three Atlanta-area spas — in which eight people, including six Asian women, were killed — some Maryland state and local leaders spoke up and urged the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to report hate crimes and push back against bigotry.

“Anti-Asian violence is not new,” the Maryland Legislative Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus, which includes 11 lawmakers, wrote in a statement. “This latest example of violence against our community has exacerbated the pain, anger and fear we all experience in our daily lives.”

“We recognize that many victims are reluctant to report hate crimes, or incidents of harassment, because they believe their report will not be taken seriously,” they continued. “Many also believe that reporting a crime will only make matters worse. We implore you not to suffer in silence. We must raise our collective voices against these incidents for the good of the AAPI Community and our society as a whole.”

According to the San Francisco nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, there were nearly 3,800 reported hate incidents nationwide over the last year. Fifty-one were reported in Maryland.

During Lunar New Year celebrations last month, four Asian-owned businesses in Howard County were vandalized, said Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Baltimore counties).

Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Baltimore, Howard)

The killings in Atlanta highlight intolerance here, Lam said in a phone interview.

“Words do matter and insensitivities that fester can lead to violence and crime. It’s important for the Asian American community to also report these crimes because I think they’re underreported and often fly under the radar,” he said.

Montgomery County, for instance, has a large Asian immigrant community that is not familiar with reporting hate crimes, said Julie Yang, who participated in a forum about increased anti-Asian hate crimes held by Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery) on Wednesday night.

But some have been hesitant to file police reports if they don’t have “proof,” such as a recording or a witness, Yang said. She asked law enforcement and public officials to offer educational tools in appropriate languages that could help educate the AAPI community on hate crime reporting.

Of 117 hate bias incidences in Montgomery County last year, 10 were considered anti-Asian, according to Capt. Stacey Flynn of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery)

“This county is not going to tolerate crimes against the Asian community,” Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said Friday morning. “I’ve instructed my staff to reach out to the Asian community to offer resources and protection, including patrols around neighborhoods and businesses that provide a peace of mind and sense of security.”

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) rebuked disparaging statements from the last presidential term, in which phrases like “Kung Flu” and the “China virus” stoked racism towards Asian communities. Lee, a third-generation Chinese American, recalled an Asian-American household in Rockville that was attacked twice.

The Senate adjourned Wednesday in honor of the victims in Atlanta. “It is incumbent upon all of us to stand up to say this is unacceptable,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said.

On Wednesday morning, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) condemned the Atlanta shootings on Twitter.

Hogan’s wife, Yumi Hogan, was born in South Korea. On the “State of the Union” last weekend, Hogan said his wife, three daughters and grandchildren “have felt some discrimination personally.”

Lawmakers have been working to enhance the state’s hate crime statute.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill stating that hate does not have to be the sole motivation for a hate crime. Rather, it could be “motivated either in whole or in substantial part by” a person’s race, color religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin or homeless status. A measure moving through the legislature this year would allow judges to require those convicted of hate crimes to go through an anti-bias education program.

Qi herself has been a victim of disparaging remarks because of her race.

Del. Lily Qi (D-Montgomery)

In a commentary in Maryland Matters published Friday, she described a colleague’s put-downs on the House floor earlier this month.

“That was outright bigotry,” Qi said during the community forum Wednesday. “I bet you he wouldn’t have used those kind of words if my last name was not ‘Qi.’ We need to call out those kinds of hatred and bigotry and otherization in everyday aggression.”

Looking Forward

Anti-Asian hate can often go unreported for various reasons, such as distrust in government or language barriers within immigrant communities.

But “we’ve got to do something because we’re like moving targets right now,” Lee said in a phone interview. She said political leaders should proactively conduct public information campaigns so that residents are aware of the possible recourses if they are a victim of a hate crime.

Intercultural dialogues with other communities of color, particularly the Black community, are also key in moving forward, Qi said.

“Black Americans have fought a lot of battles so that we can enjoy an accelerated integration, so we need to be standing in solidarity with them,” she said.

But there also needs to be a broader dialogue because it is other people who are perpetuating discrimination against Asian Americans, Lam said. The solution is going to involve the entire community, he said.

Qi said she already has some ideas for legislation next year, including a bill to require bilingual liaisons in agencies that frequently interact with different communities. Culturally competent law enforcement officers within state and local governments are also critical, she continued.

“Maybe violent crimes are extreme isolated cases, but everyday aggression is very much alive,” Qi said. People are looking for leadership, so “it’s time for us to not be silent, it’s time for us to speak out.”

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