Groups, leaders denounce swell of anti-Asian hate

  • FILE - In this March 17, 2021, file photo, council member Helen Gym address community members during a vigil to mourn and confront the rising violence against Asian Americans at the 10th Street Plaza in Philadelphia. A deadly rampage at three Georgia massage businesses, where the employees were mostly of Asian descent, has prompted Asian American women to openly share stories of being sexually harassed or demeaned based on their race. (Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP, File) JOE LAMBERTI/USA TODAY NETWORK ATLANTIC GROUP

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2021 7:21:47 PM

Officials in Northampton and Amherst are pledging to support Asian American and Pacific Islander residents as a national rise in violence and discrimination perpetrated against those communities, illustrated by the killings in Atlanta this week, continues.

“We recognize that this is just the most recent, most horrific example of the terrible rise in hate crimes, bias incidents, and hateful speech directed at our Asian American and Pacific Island family, friends, and neighbors,” reads a statement issued Thursday by Northampton Human Rights Commission chairperson Wren Bellavance-Grace and vice-chairperson Megan Paik.

The commission, which met this week, states that it is mourning the anti-Asian and gender-directed violence. Eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, were killed by a gunman at Atlanta-area spas.

“We say we see you, we grieve with you, we denounce the hate that hurts you. We commit to speak out against anti-AAPI bias and discrimination,” the commission wrote in its statement.

In Amherst, Schools Superintendent Michael Morris, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Human Rights Commission Chairman Ben Herrington joined in issuing a statement:

“Individually and collectively, we all play a role in how welcoming our community and schools are to our neighbors. With the celebration of the Lunar New Year fresh in our minds, both the town and school district pledge to stand with the AAPI community in condemning the increase in violence and discrimination toward these members of our community,” they wrote.

The statement goes on to observe, “It is worth noting that violence and discrimination targeting the AAPI community predated the current pandemic, and that violence by men targeting women continues to be unacceptable.”

As part of the efforts to bring attention to the issue, a #StopAsianHate vigil was being held Friday evening at Pulaski Park in Northampton, organized by the Valley Women’s March.

Vira Douangmany Cage of Amherst, who serves on the state’s Asian American Commission, said she appreciates that anti-Asian violence and threats are being noticed and denounced.

“I am warmed that people are taking action, speaking up and speaking out, checking in and offering support,” Cage said.

But she said that more can be done, including hiring more educators of Asian descent for the public school system, providing more institutional support for celebrations such as the Cambodian New Year, and restoring the Cambodian outreach health worker in Amherst.

“There needs to be an acceptance that community members feel targeted, have growing fears due to the hate and violence they see happening in their own lives or through turning on their television,” Cage said. “That is the essence of domestic terrorism and our local government has a way to go to build public trust.”

The lack of help from the federal government in addressing the growing issue, especially under former president Donald Trump, is also to blame, says C.N. Le, director of the Asian and Asian American Studies program and senior lecturer of sociology at the University of Massachusetts.

Le points to the website StopAAPIHate.org, which has logged 3,800 incidents of harassment, bullying, verbal assault and violence over the past year, and the terminology Trump used during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The previous president repeatedly referred to the pandemic as the ‘China virus’ or ‘kung flu’ and, in the process, blamed an entire country and people, reinforced ‘Yellow Peril’ stereotypes and ultimately condoned and even encouraged hostility against not only Chinese, but millions of Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. and globally,” Le said.

The Northampton Human Rights Commission observes that the City Council passed a resolution in May denouncing anti-Asian, anti-Asian American and xenophobic discrimination. That resolution calls on the city to condemn and denounce any and all anti-Asian sentiment and to stand with Asian and Asian American neighbors and the business community.

“We recognize that there are barriers that prevent our neighbors with marginalized identities from fully participating in our local institutions, and our beautiful community is less beautiful, less whole, less just than it could be because of their absence,” the commission states.

Though distant from Georgia, Amherst leaders note the town is not free from prejudice and discrimination.

“Over the past few years, our district and town have denounced racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” they write. “These acts of hatred affect our entire community deeply.”

The letter to the community also points to the contributions from Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and that school counselors and principals will be available to assist any children affected by these incidents. “We encourage all members of the community to reflect on supporting colleagues, friends and neighbors who may be hurting at this time,” it reads.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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