Atlanta killings stoke fear, concern in Denver area’s Asian American communities

The shooting deaths of eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three spas in the Atlanta area raised concerns and rekindled fears Wednesday within the Denver area’s Asian American communities.

Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women, and Tuesday’s mass shooting comes amid a rise in bias-motivated attacks against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspect, a 21-year-old white man, told police the killings were not racially motivated and claimed to have a “sex addiction.”

In Colorado, anxiety about attacks against Asian Americans has risen and the community’s reaction to this week’s slayings has been palpable.

Fran Campbell, a Filipino American and president and CEO of the Denver-based Asian Chamber of Commerce, said she was inundated by phone calls Wednesday morning.

“It’s a hate crime — that is how our community is looking at it,” Campbell said of the killings. “I have been hearing a lot of fear, mostly anger, and we are trying to figure out an appropriate response. It is a concern.”

Margaret Choi, a Denver-based immigration attorney and president of the Organization of Chinese Americans in Colorado, said members of the local Asian American community have been raising concerns about “racially motivated violence against Chinese and Asians as a whole” throughout the past year.

“This really is getting very serious,” she said. “Our whole community is shook up.”

Choi pointed to former President Donald Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” to label COVID-19 as a flashpoint of hate directed toward not only Chinese people, but all Asians. “That really made the situation worse, that’s how the current discrimination started,” she said.

When reached Wednesday, a woman who owns multiple Asian-themed spas in the Denver area declined to speak to The Denver Post on the record, citing safety concerns.

Increase in crimes targeting Asian Americans

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise in America during the pandemic, increasing 149% in 16 of the nation’s largest cities in 2020.

Of the cities studied nationally by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, 49 hate crimes were reported in 2019 followed by 122 in 2020.

In Denver, three hate crimes against Asian Americans were reported to police in 2019 — the first in the city in six years. As of early March, Denver police said they had received two reports of bias-motivated crimes against Asian Americans so far this year.

In Aurora, police investigated two anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, said Crystal McCoy, a police spokeswoman. So far, there have been no such complaints reported to police in 2021.

Colorado Bureau of Investigation data shows eight anti-Asian hate crimes statewide in 2020, and seven in 2019.

Crime studies have found that hate crimes can tend to be under-reported due to victims’ fear of reprisal and mistrust of police.

“Historically, when it comes to bias crimes, our community does not always report these crimes,” said Claudine McDonald, chief community relations officer with the Aurora Police Department. “We are trying to encourage the community to make reports. Whether it is big or small, we want the community to contact us.”

Outreach and public discussions

Police in Denver have “been reaching out” to the Asian community because of the “impact of COVID-19 and a correlation of Asian community hate crime,” said Kurt Barnes, a Denver Police Department spokesman. The department’s “impact team” works directly with community members.

Aurora’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs “has been monitoring the latest developments in Atlanta and has been in contact with members of Aurora’s Asian community through the Natural Helpers program,” said Ryan Luby, a city spokesman, in an email.

Before the killings in Atlanta, a virtual event called “Addressing Anti-Asian Hate: Colorado Solutions Town Hall” — with participants seeking forms of prevention and solutions, as well as support for victims — was scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Register to attend at tiny.cc/AATownHall.

Aurora is co-hosting a webinar called “Community Conversation: Hate Crimes Against Asian Communities” at 6 p.m. Monday. Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson will join 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner and Harry Budisidharta of the Asian Pacific Development Center as part of the virtual event. Register at bit.ly/3qYstXm.

Police in Aurora are increasing patrols around Asian and Pacific Islander businesses, including the Asian Pacific Development Center, Luby said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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