Cincinnati's National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Responds to Anti-Asian Violence

"Sadly, racism and violence toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is nothing new. It is one of our nation’s dark legacies dating back centuries," the organization's president writes.

click to enlarge The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center - Photo:
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

A Cincinnati institution against injustice has weighed in on a shooting that killed eight people at Atlanta-area spas this week.

On Wednesday, investigators charged Robert Aaron Long with eight counts of murder connected to the March 16 shooting spree that began at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia and continued to additional locations. Six women of Asian descent died in the attacks, adding to a year in which Asians increasingly have been targeted with physical and emotional violence.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, which educates visitors and encourages action in anti-racism and social justice movements, condemns the attacks in a March 17 statement.

“The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is alarmed by the rise in violent attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, including last evening’s shootings in Georgia. Our hearts are with the victims of these attacks and with the entire Asian American and Pacific Islander communities,” Woodrow Keown Jr., president and chief operating officer, writes in a statement. “We strongly condemn these acts of hate and implore our nation to stand up and speak out against these and all acts of prejudice.”

“Sadly, racism and violence toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is nothing new. It is one of our nation’s dark legacies dating back centuries,” Keown continues. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been the victims of bigoted legislation and internment camps — at the same time we were condemning their use by the villainous Nazis in Europe. We shed blood across continents in a righteous effort to stamp out white supremacy in Europe but we, as a nation, have yet to commit ourselves to waging that same fight at home.”

Hate crimes and hate-motivated killings in the United States both hit their highest levels in more than a decade, the Associated Press reported in November. The FBI designates hate crimes as being those motivated against a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.

People of Asian descent increasingly have been targeted over the last year, which many attribute to rhetoric like that which former U.S. President Donald Trump used during his tenure. Trump frequently referred to the coronavirus as “the China virus," “the Chinese virus” and even the "Kung Flu" because it had originated in Wuhan, China. Trump has continued to use the racist slur on FOX News.

Long, the suspect in the shooting, told investigators that his attack was not racially motivated.

But Keown — and investigators — cannot unsee the pattern of racism that the country continues to grapple with.

“The irony is the American myth has glamorized our country as a melting pot, built by immigrants and made vibrant by the diversity of cultures that make up our national identity. While that vibrancy is indeed the product of the beautiful diversity imbued in the word 'American,' it has not and is not a story of harmony,” Keown writes. “People of African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latino and indigenous descent are identified as Americans, but that hyphen that marries their ancestral homes and their modern homes has too long stripped them of the rights, security and dignity afforded to white Americans.”

“We do not call for homogenization or to strip ourselves of our racial and ethnic identities. Rather we demand respect, dignity and humanity from each other. We implore every American to demand for each other the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness our nation was founded upon. We challenge each other to be curious, to be open and to understand our differences so that we can enjoy the vibrancy that can occur when you see all colors. Above all, we demand compassion and empathy for our fellow humans,” he concludes.

Read the full statement on the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s website.

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