RICHMOND, Va. — Following a deadly shooting rampage in Atlanta, Richmond Asian American advocates said the violence was a symptom of a bigger problem felt locally.
While sitting in his home Wednesday afternoon, Justin Lo said he still remembered the way he felt after he was confronted in a Church Hill park because of his race.
“I remember it because it was a week after my birthday in April. Right after the pandemic began,” said Lo.
“As I was crossing the street a gentleman just started yelling at me — specifically me — nobody else in the park — to stay away from him because I 'could kill everybody in the park', is what he said,” said Lo.
Lo said he realized the accusation was racially motivated when the man proceeded to ask him if he spoke any English. He documented his experience in a Richmond Times Dispatch op-ed published in April.
“I actually wrote it — right after I got back from the park that day. I remember, like totally shaken and just in tears. And the only thing I could think of to kind of be constructive in that moment was to put it in writing,” said Lo
It wouldn't be the last time he and other members of his community were targeted because of their race.
In Atlanta, eight people were killed after police said a man shot up three Georgia spas. Six of the eight victims were Asians.
Law enforcement said the suspect claimed the shooting was not racially motivated.
While investigators worked to determine whether that was true, Eric Lin, Vice President of Finance for the OCA, Asian Pacific American Advocates, said it was a jarring escalation to something they’d already been seeing.
“For the last, you know, four or five years, there's been a narrative that immigrant communities are, kind of ‘others’ in our society,” said Lin.
Lin said that narrative had only escalated since the pandemic began. Lo also echoed that sentiment.
"Particularly during the pandemic when people were blaming China for the coronavirus, I think people then attributed that to anybody who was of Asian descent here in the United States," said Lo. "The anti-Asian sentiment comes from this idea that people don’t see members of my community as part of this country. We're othered."
A coalition called Stop AAPI Hate tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans in the country.
In their latest February 2021 review, Stop AAPI Hate documented nearly 3,800 incidents reported to them from across the country since March, 2020. Virginia sat just above Georgia as one of the top states for incidents reported.
Lo, who was appointed to Governor Ralph Northam’s Asian Advisory Board in 2019 believed those numbers were probably much higher.
“When you’re talking about a community that doesn’t want to talk about these issues, or has learned to not talk about them, I think you have a harder time understanding the scope of the problem,” said Lo. “I think now is the time more than ever for all of us to stand united in our fight against racism — in all of its forms.”
Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring also issued statements Wednesday condemning the rise of violence against Asian Americans.
Northam's statement read:
“We are grieving with the Asian American community and all of the victims of the horrific shootings in Atlanta last night that took eight lives, six of whom were women of Asian descent. This is the latest in a series of heinous attacks against Asian Americans across this nation, but sadly these are not isolated events. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a disturbing rise in inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric, harassment, and violence against Asian American communities. “Hate and bigotry have no place in our Commonwealth or country. We all have a responsibility to condemn these racist acts and make clear that this is not who we are as Virginians, or as Americans. “We will continue to ensure that Virginia is a place where all people are welcome and our diversity is celebrated. We stand in solidarity with members of the Asian American community and those facing discrimination, hate incidents, fear, and intimidation. We must do everything in our power to make their safety a priority and to stand against all forms of injustice.”