As state Rep. Sharon Santos read out the names and ages of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings Monday at Renton City Hall, she said it was important to “invite their spirits and their names to this space.”
“In the aftermath of a great American tragedy,” she said, she invoked their names as a way to “to ensure that this is not a one-moment-in-time recollection. Because the fact is anti-Asian violence, anti-Asian bias and xenophobia have been with us in this country for centuries.”
She joined Gov. Jay Inslee and other local leaders in denouncing the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and racism in the wake of a shooting by a white gunman that left eight people, including six women of Asian descent, dead in Atlanta.
Inslee called the conference in Renton, where last Thursday an Asian man was shot and wounded at a Renton Avenue spa on Thursday evening in what the King County Sheriff’s Office described as a “takeover” robbery.
Inslee said he stood in solidarity with members of the Asian community and is committed to ending the surge in targeted violence.
He singled out former President Donald Trump’s role in spreading prejudice and misinformation by labeling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” and “Asian flu.”
He said there exists a virus of hatred and fear that has too often been “fanned by some political figures,” and that it must be defeated. He called upon lawmakers and state officials to take action and speak out.
One official who said he’s doing just that is King County Executive Dow Constantine.
He announced his plans to fight anti-Asian racism with money from the “American Rescue Plan,” the pandemic relief legislation that granted billions of federal dollars to Washington state, including $437 million to King County.
The first part of the funding, he said, will be $5 million for community organizations, including multicultural media and a coalition of eight organizations battling hate and bias.
“King County is using this opportunity, this moment to invest more deeply in community,” Constantine said, adding that he will be announcing more details about the American Rescue Plan this week.
Santos has been working on a special national committee on anti-Asian violence and xenophobia since last year. She said state legislators across the country “have been grappling with the fact that there’s no common reporting center, no common way to address hate crime.
“If you have been a victim of racial bias, racial harassment, racial crime — report it. We need to know the numbers and bring visibility to this horrific crime,” Santos said.
State lawmakers let the only bill addressing hate crimes this year die in the House in February. HB 1071 would have added hate crime offenses to the list of “crimes against persons,” and proposed deeming bias-related crimes as being under aggravating circumstances.
“There is a hate crime that can be charged if it’s against a building. But if it’s against any one of you … it’s not going to be charged as a hate crime felony,” Santos said.
Noriko Nasu, a Japanese high school teacher, said she was walking through the International District with her boyfriend on Feb. 25, to go grocery shopping when a man ambushed her and hit her in the face, knocking her unconscious and leaving her with a fractured nose and broken teeth, as well as a concussion. The pain, however, was nothing compared to what came next, she said.
The perpetrator was charged with two counts of second-degree felony assault, not a hate crime. But Nasu said she has every reason to believe the attack was hate-motivated, even if the legal system refuses to recognize so.
“If this is not a hate crime, what is it?” Nasu asked.
But even if the attacker was charged with a hate crime, she said, it would not add time to his sentence. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said that if convicted for the two felony assault crimes, the defendant would face a longer punishment than if the case were charged as a hate crime. The office also said the reason for charging two assault counts rather than a hate crime is based on the evidence from investigators so far.
“I feel as if I was abused twice, first by the attacker and second by the legal system,” Nasu said.
President Joe Biden also spoke out repeatedly in the last few days about the slayings, condemning the “skyrocketing” hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.