“No justice, no peace!” roared a crowd of about 100 people who met at the Arch in downtown Athens on Saturday afternoon. The crowd gathered to join in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community after the mass shootings in Atlanta that occurred on March 16.
The event was organized jointly by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, Economic Justice Coalition, Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, Moms Demand Action and Justice for Black Lives Academy. The event was titled “United Against Asian Hate.”
AADM president and co-founder Mokah Jasmine Johnson served as the event’s master of ceremonies. Speakers drove up from Atlanta to speak to the Athens community, including Long Tran, Michelle Kang and Cam Ashling. Other speakers included Cole Knapper, Emma Jones, Anne Belocura, Aditya Krishnaswamy and Kyle Patel.
To bring attention to the recent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, speakers touched on the underlying topics that shaped the events affecting the Asian community. Subjects included voter suppression, gun violence and America’s mainstream media perception of China.
“All throughout Georgia, all throughout this nation, it is time for us to have each other's back,” Johnson said.
Protesters called for unity among minority communities after a year of protests covering the Black Lives Matter movement and the #StopAsianHate movement. Another protest was held in Atlanta on Saturday as a gesture of unity.
Community organizer Long Tran was one of the speakers who came from Atlanta. He began organizing in 1995, 13 years after the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin. The two men who were responsible for the murder were fined $3,000 each and didn’t serve jail time.
“So for $3,000, you could kill a Chinese man — that was the message in the ‘80s,” Tran said.
Tran highlighted the white privilege involved in Chin’s murder and compared it to the March 16 mass shootings that took place at three spas in Atlanta. As Tran finalized his speech, he reminded the younger audience members to remember the power they hold as voting members of society.
Michelle Kang, Korean American Constituency Director of the Asian American Action Fund of Georgia, is a University of Georgia alumna, and so is one of her daughters. Her other daughter will be attending college this fall, and Kang said she is concerned for her safety.
“My daughter went here. I was never concerned about her safety because she lived off campus. Now I have another daughter to go to college this year this August. I'm very concerned about her safety. Will she be safe?” Kang said.
After Kang’s speech, the crowd marched to City Hall from the Arch. A new set of speakers were introduced. Among them, Chair of the Georgia Advancing Progress Political Action Committee, Cam Ashling.
“We have to vote out racism. If we don't, it will keep coming up. And the people who prop it up will stay in power to use it and pin our communities against each other,” Ashling said.
Gun violence and reform
Ashling said one of the issues in the Atlanta spa shootings was gun control. Robert Aaron Long purchased a gun on the same day he used it to kill eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
With Georgia’s current gun laws, there is no waiting period to purchase a gun and private weapon sellers are not required to do a background check on licensed gun owners.
“In Georgia, you cannot go register to vote and vote in the same day, but you can sure as heck go get a gun and just kill everybody in the same day,” Ashling said.
Emma Jones is the leader for the local Moms Demand Action group that advocates for gun reform. Jones also spoke about the effects of gun violence.
“We know that white supremacy racist and misogyny are a toxic mix, and they turn swiftly deadly when we add guns,” Jones said.
China in the media
Anne Belocura is a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation who spoke about how the media’s depiction of China affects how Asian-Americans are viewed in society.
She said Trump “weaponized” the virus and didn’t take action which resulted in 400,000 deaths due to COVID-19 under his administration. Since Biden’s inauguration, approximately 155,000 deaths have occurred. Belocura suggested that mainstream media’s coverage of China, while the U.S. government chose not to do anything about COVID-19, led to a rise of Anti-Asian sentiments.
Another issue brought forth by the Atlanta spa mass shooting is the hypersexualization of Asian women.
“It's a form of racism that dehumanizes Black women, Asian women and ultimately, all women. It's the idea that the presence and existence of women is inherently sexual and deviant,” Belocura said.
In an interview after the protest, Tran, Ashling and Kang spoke to The Red & Black about Asian cultural beliefs that need to be fought against. Staying quiet, being respectful and minimizing trouble are “part of our culture,” said Tran, who is Vietnamese.
“Part of the fact that when immigrants come over, they don't want to have another reason for somebody else to target them, and speaking up politically puts another target on you in case somebody wants to hurt you,” Ashling said.
The push for further unity, reform and awareness was heard at the Arch today as community members continue to organize rallies and marches.