AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group tasked with advising the Austin City Council on issues impacting the local Asian American community condemned the deadly shooting in Georgia and other violent incidents reported across the country.
The city’s Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission released a statement Wednesday after a gunman killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at several businesses in the Atlanta area. This particular attack happened after a wave of recent violence and anti-Asian sentiment.
“We stand with the families of the victims, the business owners and employees who have to face the aftermath of these horrific events,” the group’s statement read, “and the Asian communities who have faced racism for years that has increased to over 3,795 anti-Asian hate incident reports just in the past year.”
The statement also called on neighbors to stand with those in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community during a time when they fear for the safety of themselves and their families.
“We need your help. We need your support. We need you to stand up and say it’s not okay,” Pooja Sethi told KXAN. “Be an ally and speak out and say, ‘This is wrong,’ and recognize that it’s wrong. Know that it’s wrong. Know that there’s families who are hurting, there’s communities that are hurting and say, ‘I stand with you. I support you. If I see a racist incident, if I see someone in a grocery store who is looked at wrong or someone on social media, I’m gonna fight. I’m gonna stand up and fight,’ and we need that.”
Sethi serves on the city’s Asian American advisory commission. She said her loved ones urged her not to travel after they all heard about the shooting.
“We got a call from my family because we were heading down to the beach,” Sethi said. “We were told not to go. We were told to hunker down and stay home and not to go. That’s really sad because I don’t know that everyone in the country has to face that. I don’t know that everyone in the country has to think about that. I don’t know that everyone in our country has to think twice before going out to a grocery store, looking down, making sure that you don’t have too many people noticing you.”
Mayor Steve Adler released his own statement Wednesday addressing the attack in Georgia and mentioning someone recently vandalizing a San Antonio restaurant with racist messages.
“The racial targeting and hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander community is a national issue, and Austin as well,” Adler said. “The members of the City Council and I recognized this in 2020.”
The City Council approved a resolution in April last year that “condemns all hateful speech, violent action, racism, and misinformation directed at Chinese Americans, Asian Americans, and Chinese- and Asian-owned businesses, particularly reactions due to misinformation spread about the relationship between China and the COVID-19 virus.”
“The Asian American Pacific Islander community makes up 8% of the city’s total population, and Asian American Pacific Islander owned businesses make up a significant portion of Austin’s overall economy,” Adler said. “One of the things that makes Austin one of the greatest places to live and work is its people. The city is rich in its overall diversity, and that heterogeneity benefits our overall community and economy.”
Sethi said she thinks political rhetoric and COVID-19 helped fuel the terror many are feeling across the country.
“People have accents within our community, and they get made fun of. People have names — my name is Pooja. I cannot tell you the amount of people that have made fun of my name on on a daily basis,” Sethi said. “People do this in many different ways, and these small forms of aggression build up so that one name call just could could build up and build up and build up, and that’s how we get to where we are today.
“This started with name calling that’s been going on for years and then amplified on a very large podium politically for many, many years, and that’s where we’re at today,” she continued. “Even the tiniest bit of incident or aggression that you see, although it may seem tiny to you, it’s huge for our community. So stand up, treat it like what it is: it’s hate.”
Austin Police Department
In a statement shared with KXAN Wednesday, the Austin Police Department said, “We have not seen an uptick in hate crimes against the Asian American community, and are unaware of any credible threats.”
Police acknowledged the recent reports of hate-related speech targeting AAPI people and Asian-owned businesses, but they pointed out those incidents “while disappointing, do not meet the elements of a crime as outlined in the Texas Penal Code.”
However, police said, “Anyone who has been a victim or who has information about a potential hate crime is asked to report it to police so we can investigate accordingly.”
Austin police said the department has its own Asian outreach program as well as an assigned liaison to work specifically with the local AAPI community.