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Georgia's Growing Asian American Community Reacts To Spa Killings


Let's turn now to Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood. She's the executive director of the nonprofit Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia. Her organization has been helping the families of those killed in this week's shooting. Good morning.

AISHA YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTÍNEZ: Sure. As we just heard that authorities say it's too early to determine if the suspect will be charged with a hate crime. And the suspect claims that he did not target the victims due to race. How is that being received around the Atlanta area, particularly with Asian Americans?

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: I will say that that is a message that is not resonating with our communities. We were quite disappointed to hear the narrative that is being pushed by law enforcement, especially through the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, that this is not - that this was not racially motivated. And we know that that is just a deflection to the whole argument that we're trying to make around the increased anti-Asian violence and anti-Asian sentiment that we've been seeing against our communities for the greater part of this year, but also for many years before.

MARTÍNEZ: And you're there working alongside other local groups to help the families of the victims killed in the shooting. What are you doing to support them?

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Yeah, we are in talks almost every hour to make sure that we're keeping in touch with the families, with those directly impacted and making sure that we can address their holistic needs at this time. Yesterday was all about really taking this opportunity to get to know the community needs, making sure that we were listening for any support services that could be offered, whether it be immigration or mental health services or other legal needs that arose. And then as we move forward in these coming days, we'll be putting together actionable items for our communities to support us with.

So up until now, it's been making sure that we can really support and protect the needs of those families - of the victims' families and making sure that we are helping to set the narrative as they want it and not letting law enforcement or other media counter that narrative from the get-go.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, we've been reporting on this program about the uptick in crimes and attacks against Asian Americans in this country within the past year. Aisha, what have you been seeing and hearing in Georgia?

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Yeah, we have noticed in Georgia so much over the last year as it relates to violence being perpetuated against Asian American businesses, in the early days of COVID-19 especially. Before the shutdowns, before everyone really took it seriously, our Asian American businesses were already being discriminated against. They had been experiencing the subtle racism well before the rest of the community really even noticed.

And so coming off of the COVID-19 crisis, I think what we really have to look at now is how we can make sure that we don't let future opportunities really divide our communities and use this exact experience as an opportunity to talk about what the real problem is. And that is that our communities have been torn apart by white supremacy, that white supremacy has been used to attack not just Asian American communities, but other communities of color. And this presents an opportunity for us to really stand in solidarity with other impacted communities and say that, you know, this - we cannot stand for this.

MARTÍNEZ: And according to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate, almost 70% of the attacks on Asian Americans over the last year have been directed at women. Considering what has happened this week and the stat I just mentioned, I mean, what does that indicate to you?

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Yeah, women are often the least protected and the most aggressed at. Right? And we know that in particular, the six Asian women who were killed, you know, were just - I think the narrative that I heard yesterday is maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we know that people that work in the massage parlor industry or other beauty industries are often working highly vulnerable or low-wage jobs, especially during this ongoing pandemic. And we know that a lot of the impacts around structural violence, white supremacy and misogyny is especially impacting them.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, I was going to say, wrong place, wrong time - they were at work. You know, so that's - got to remember that.

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Exactly. They were trying to make a living, yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia. Thank you very much.

YAQOOB MAHMOOD: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.