AROUND OREGON: Asian American leaders in Oregon react to Atlanta shootings: ‘I am scared for our community’

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Oregon have been on high alert for the past several months, as hate crimes and violence against those communities have increased nationally.

Their fears were further realized Tuesday when eight people — including six Asian American women — were killed in a series of shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area.

“I am feeling sad and angry,” Rep. Khanh Pham, an Asian American legislator who represents the Jade District, said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “I’m feeling sick to my stomach. I am scared for our community.”

Pham said Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are carrying a fear of violence and urged elected leaders to acknowledge and address the pattern of attacks against the communities.

“I’m drawing strength from the resilience and strength of our communities,” Pham said. “We all need to come together to advocate for change.”

Pham was part of a chorus of Oregonians — including Gov. Kate Brown, Portland’s Mayor and City Council, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt — who denounced the shootings Wednesday.

Portland police, for their part, said patrol officers “will offer higher visibility to Asian American communities and business districts,” according to an agency spokesman.

Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that tracks and reports bias crimes against Asian Americans, tallied nearly 3,800 incidents from March 19, 2020, to the end of last month.

Bias crimes against Asian American women comprised 68% of those incidents. Thirty-five percent of them happened in businesses.

The report noted 40 racist incidents in Oregon.

In January, vandals struck a stretch of Southeast 82nd Avenue that’s home to several Asian-owned businesses. Jade District business owners reported more than a dozen such incidents.

In the months since the incidents, the region’s Asian American communities have rallied to address the issue.

Awareness in schools

Among those who have been trying to raise awareness about racism against Asian Americans are a pair of Portland-area school counselors.

Sakura Hamada, an elementary school counselor in the Reynolds School District, said she was spurred to action about a month ago when she heard about Vichar Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant in San Francisco, who was attacked during a morning walk and later died from his injuries.

“That really triggered me,” Hamada told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “There’s a lot of ongoing violence against elderly Asian Americans.”

Hamada, who is Japanese American, said the increasing attacks against Asian Americans weighed on her and made her think about how to support others in her community.

With the support of her union president and principal, Hamada got the district’s education association to pass a resolution condemning any type of racial violence or xenophobia.

About 7% of the Reynolds School District’s students are Asian Americans and 3% are Pacific Islanders, according to 2019-2020 school data.

Hamada also created a presentation to students that addresses hate crimes against Asian Americans and their historical context. Some students approached Hamada afterward and told her they were victims of violence or threats.

“Having an open conversation with my students was very powerful, and I hope to continue to provide a space for them to talk about their feelings and experiences,” she said.

Miranda Trullench, a counselor in the Beaverton School District, took a similar approach, sharing statistics about hate crimes against Asian Americans with colleagues during a presentation. About 18% of Beaverton’s students are Asian Americans, and 1% are Pacific Islanders.

Trullench, who is Filipino American, also dispelled to her colleagues a stereotype that Asian Americans don’t face the same struggles as other minority groups. And after Tuesday’s shootings, she reached out to her colleagues to start a conversation.

“My first reaction was, ‘How do I take care of myself, especially being part of this community,’” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “It was important to let them know that this is a vulnerable time for me too.”

Both counselors have independently created affinity groups for their Asian American students to have a safe place to talk.

Oregon reactions

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, a grassroots social justice organization, said its members were devastated by the attacks — and noted they have been alarmed by the recent increase in anti-Asian hate and violence.

“The tragedy in Atlanta especially points to the radicalized sexual violence Asian women face in this country and globally,” the organization said in a statement.

Other community leaders and elected officials also decried the attacks. Brown, for example, addressed the state’s Asian community directly.

“To the Asian community in Oregon: I feel your pain and I stand with you,” she said in a statement. “I remain committed to doing the hard work to build a more equitable and just Oregon.”

The Portland City Council also condemned the shootings and the use of hate speech, including by former President Donald Trump, that members said has fueled the increase in violence.

A statement signed by Wheeler and all four city councilors noted an increase in physical attacks on Asian Americans in Portland, as well as the spike in vandalism in the Jade District.

“Words matter, and the use of hateful language and slurs can fuel racist ideologies,” the council’s letter said.

Wheeler also said separately that Portland has seen a recent increase in hate and bias crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

But Lt. Greg Pashley, a Portland Police Bureau spokesperson, said bias crimes detectives have not seen a recent uptick in incidents targeting Asian Americans.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office also said they have not seen an uptick in crimes against Asian Americans recently, but noted that hate crimes are widely under-reported. Sgt. Danny DiPietro said the sheriff’s office had invited leaders from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon to join a meeting held by the sheriff’s Latino Advisory Commission next month.

At least two instances where that does appear to have been the case have occurred in recent months, however.

In mid-December, police arrested and charged a man with a bias crime after he asked an Asian American man about his heritage while the two were at a MAX stop, then punched the man in the face.

And about a month later, a man kicked an Asian American woman and her son in the shins on a TriMet bus and started shouting racial slurs and racist comments about the coronavirus.

He was also arrested and charged with bias crimes.

Asian Americans have also been facing increased racism since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon urged its members to continue to support each other and demand their rights and safety.

“We call on our allies to do the same,” the organization said in its statement. “To condemn the racism and violence inflicted on API communities, that we know is all too familiar to our BIPOC neighbors and partners. We must care for each other and work together to root out the racism that threatens all of us.”

This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. The Malheur Enterprise is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.