Austin's Asian American community shaken by shootings, hate crimes

Shootings that killed eight people, six of them of Asian descent, at three spas in Georgia on Tuesday, rattled the Asian American community nationwide. 

"It's just a fear. I don't think people can imagine that," said Amy Mok, President, and CEO of the Asian American Cultural Center in Austin

It's the latest attack that has shaken the Asian American population.  

Although police said the suspect claimed his motive was not race-based, for Mok, it still feels personal. "It is like, you don't even acknowledge the despair and the pain that it caused in our community, collectively," Mok said. 

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The local Asian American community is asking city leaders and Austin police to have a plan in place to protect them after the shootings in Georgia. The Austin Regional Intelligence Center said although they have not identified any credible threats in Central Texas, they reached out to Austin police to request additional patrol at Asian businesses and communities. 

Mok wrote to the mayor, city council members, and the police chief Thursday asking them to stand with the local Asian community. "Acknowledge our pain and just acknowledge our fear. Just have the message that 'I see you. I see your pain, I see your fear and it should not be acceptable,'" Mok said. 

In the letter, Mok writes in part: "There is no doubt in our mind that what happened in Georgia was a HATE crime against Asians/AsAms. We are being targeted."

The Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce said Austin police said when time permits they will increase patrols in the requested locations. The GAACC encourages people to report aggression, racial profiling, or any sort of attack to police or the City of Austin. They also have a law firm on standby for free consultations for anyone who has been targeted. 

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"Even if the police determine that they don't think that this was targeted to the community because it was against two Asian businesses, it doesn't mean that the community is not going to feel like it was a hate crime,"  said Renee Lafair, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League in Austin. 

A study of police data in 16 of the country's largest cities by California State University San Bernardino found Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 149% in 2020.

Mok said she believes the real number is likely much higher. "Those are the people who are courageous enough to speak up, to come out to report it. There's at least two, three more times that... We're already targeted. So we don't want to bring visibility to our pain, to our fear, because we are so afraid to call too much attention to ourselves," Mok said.  


Most of the hate crimes in the study were reported in California and New York, but an Asian restaurant in San Antonio was reportedly vandalized after a chef there spoke out against the Texas governor's decision to lift coronavirus restrictions

Mok said her own staff have told her about incidents where they were lashed out at recently just for driving down the street. "We have been holding our breath and it's so suffocating because I don't see the end of it," said Mok.  

The City of Austin Equity office reports the Austin Asian community is also dealing with some COVID-19 related harassment.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler released a statement Thursday that reads in part, "...We support, protect and celebrate our city’s Asian American Pacific Islander families, their businesses, and cultural contributions to the Austin community..."

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Mok said she hopes more people will speak out against violence towards the Asian American community and let those hurting know that their pain matters. "I want them, every time they see us being attacked, or they see us being harassed, to really say that this is not acceptable," Mok said.  

The nonprofit organization Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate said it received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 2020 and February 2021. 103 of those were reported in Texas.