Brooklynites protest anti-Asian racism after Atlanta shootings

atlanta shootings
Protesters in Bensonhurst denounced the Atlanta shootings and the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans on March 21.
Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Brooklynites came together to denounce the Atlanta shootings at three separate rallies across the borough on Sunday — arguing that the massacre that killed six Asian women exemplified the increased racism Asian-Americans have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That is hate,” said state Sen. John Liu, who represents Queens, during a March 21 rally outside Brooklyn Borough Hall. “That is a feeling that we all feel as Asian-Americans, that somehow we’re not people or we’re not Americans. We’re perpetual foreigners.” 

The protests come less than one week after a 21-year-old suspect Robert Aaron Long opened fire in three spas and massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, killing eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent.

Officers from the Atlanta Police Department have faced backlash after not labeling the incident a hate crime, claiming instead that Long was motivated by a sexual addiction, and that he “had a bad day.” Police are still investigating the shootings, and Long remains in custody.

Nationwide, attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have surged over the last year. New York City has seen the biggest spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the country, with incidents jumping from three to 28 in 2020 — an 833 percent increase, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

atlanta shootings
City Council candidate Ari Kagan holds the names of the victims of the Atlanta shootings next to southern Brooklyn District Leader Nancy Tong at a March 21 rally in Bensonhurst.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

During three protests on Sunday, Brooklynites fought back against the rise in hate. One rally, hosted by Borough President Eric Adams outside Borough Hall, drew Brooklyn legislators, activists, and local officials who vowed to bring those attackers of the Asian-Americans community to justice. 

“As Brooklyn’s top prosecutor, I am committed to protecting all communities — including the AAPI community — from every type of crime, especially hate-fueled violence, and to holding those who commit them accountable,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “In the face of rising intolerance across the country, we must all speak out and call out bigotry and violence.”

One Chinese-American community leader said that the way to mitigate anti-Asian hate is not through policing, but through increased resources to community groups. 

“If we’ve learned anything in the last year as were marching for Black lives, the police is not the answer,” said Wayne Ho, the president of the Chinese-American Planning Council, who spoke at the Borough Hall rally. “We need to have restorative justice, we don’t need incarceration at this time.”

atlanta shootings
Borough President Eric Adams spoke against the Atlanta shootings that killed six women of Asian descent on March 16.Erica Krodman/Brooklyn Borough President’s Office

Protesters also gathered outside Barclays Center on Sunday for the “Black People for Asian Lives Rally” hosted by a cadre of civil rights groups. 

The event — which featured speeches by state Sen. Jabari Brisport and the president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, Anthony Beckford, among others — aimed to bring together the Asian and Black communities, according to one organizer behind the protest.

It was to bring solidarity to the Black and Asian community,” said Natalie Randall, the founder of the 50 Mile Run for Justice Project. “A lot of times, people pit them against each other, but we wanted to stand up together to stand against not only the shootings in Atlanta, but also the anti-Asian hate crimes.” 

More than 500 protesters, joined by the marching band Fogo Azul, walked from Barclays Center across the Manhattan Bridge to Chinatown singing chants and holding signs.

atlanta shootings
More than 500 demonstrators marched across the Manhattan Bridge in solidarity with the Asian-American community.Natalie Randall

It was super peaceful, and that was another thing we wanted to demonstrate,” said Randall, who said she’s never witnessed violence at any New York City protest she’s attended. 

Residents of Brooklyn’s northern neighborhoods weren’t the only ones to rise up. Down in Bensonhurst, which houses a large Asian-American community, more than 200 locals and community leaders honored the lives lost in the Atlanta shootings at a vigil and rally hosted by Coney Island City Council candidate Ari Kagan on 86th Street and Bay 23rd Street.

Bensonhurst residents have seen their fair share of anti-Asian hate. In July, two teenagers set an 89-year-old Chinese woman on fire — spurring a large protest led by Chinese-American celebrities that criticized the 62nd Precinct for declining to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

Sunday’s rally took a different tone, with some attendees waving signs in support of the police, and others explaining their recent experiences of racism in the neighborhood. 

Just two months ago, a bunch of kids walked by laughing at me, saying, ‘Go back to China,'” said Dr. Tim Law, a senior citizen and the founder of the Chinese-American Social Services Center in Bensonhurst. “It’s very unfair to us … I have been living in the neighborhood for 50 years. My son’s a doctor helping patients. We are contributing to the country.”

To combat racism, people must continue speaking out against prejudice together, Law claimed.

All Asians unite together come together to fight back,” he said. “We have to understand each other, our cultures, our contributions.”

atlanta shootings
Protesters at the 86th Street rally pushed back against the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta