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The pandemic has been a dangerous time for people of East Asian descent in North America, and this week’s deadly shootings in Georgia has raised concerns even more

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Montreal, March 21: People at a demonstration hold up signs against anti-Asian racism and in memory of the people killed in Atlanta earlier that week.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Before March 16′s shootings in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead – six of them of East Asian descent – the past year had already been a dangerous one for Asian-Americans. Incidents of hate, from street harassment to vandalism, have measurably increased since the pandemic began. U.S. politicians, past and present, are coming under greater scrutiny for the way rhetoric about the “Wuhan virus” has made matters worse, and their Canadian counterparts are also facing public demands to do more. Here’s a primer on the situation so far.

The shootings in Atlanta: What we know so far

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A police officer works on March 16 at the scene outside Gold Spa in Atlanta, one of three businesses in the area to suffer deadly shootings that day.Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

A white suspect was arrested Tuesday after three spas, one in Georgia’s Cherokee County and two in Atlanta, were attacked in succession that afternoon. Police haven’t given a definitive account of the suspect’s motives, but this is what we know.

  • The attacks: The violence began around 5 p.m. Tuesday at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Ga., where four people – two Asian women, a white woman and a white man – were fatally shot, local police said. Shortly before 6 p.m., Atlanta police responded to a “robbery in progress” call at the Gold Spa, where they found three women dead, as well as another woman shot at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street. “It appears that they may be Asian,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said of the four Atlanta victims.
  • The dead: At Youngs Asian Massage, owner Xiaojie (Emily) Tan was killed along with employee Daoyou Feng; Paul Andre Michels, who ran a business installing security systems; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, a 33-year-old mother of a baby girl. The three victims at Gold Spa were day manager Soon Chung Park, 74, and employees Hyun Jung Grant, 51, and Suncha Kim, 69. Massage therapist Yong Ae Yue, 63, was killed at Aromatherapy Spa.
  • The suspect: A 21-year-old man was arrested at about 8:30 p.m. in Crisp County after a highway pursuit by state police. He has been charged with eight counts of murder. Atlanta police have not ruled out the possibility that it was a hate crime.
  • The police: Cherokee County authorities ignited anger among Asian communities for the messages they sent in the shooting’s initial aftermath. Captain Jay Baker was replaced as spokesman for the investigation after a briefing where he said the suspect had “a really bad day,” which Asian-American advocates said went too far in excusing the alleged killer’s actions. Capt. Baker was later linked to a 2020 Facebook post where he appeared to promote a T-shirt with racist language about China and the coronavirus.

Anti-Asian hatred in the United States

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People hold lights during a March 4 vigil in Fountain Valley, Calif.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

What statistics say

In 2020, recorded hate incidents against East Asians and Pacific Islanders surged as some Americans embraced conspiracy theories that China, the first country hit by the pandemic, was to blame for the virus. One analysis by California researchers put the increase at 149 per cent compared with 2019, even though the overall hate-crime rate dropped 7 per cent in the same period. Official statistics should be viewed with caution because not all incidents get reported to police. Several U.S. advocacy groups have tried to address this by creating a centralized reporting site, Stop AAPI Hate, which recorded 3,795 incidents from March 19 last year to Feb. 28 this year. Women reported 2.3 times as often as men, AAPI found.

The Trump factor

Before the end of his presidency and the suspension of his Twitter account, Donald Trump continued to use phrases such as “the Chinese virus” to describe the virus that causes COVID-19. Bodies such as the World Health Organization have avoided this so no single country is stigmatized for a disease that has left no continent untouched. Mr. Trump and other U.S. politicians then amplified conspiracy theories that the virus was created in a Chinese biological weapons lab.

Biden administration’s response

President Joe Biden promised action this month in his first national prime-time TV address, saying racist attacks are “un-American” and must stop. Earlier, he directed the Justice Department to work with state and local authorities to combat hate. He and Vice-President Kamala Harris planned to meet with Asian-American leaders in Georgia on Friday, which they had previously arranged to visit to promote a COVID-19 relief bill.

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Surveillance footage from March 13, 2020, shows a white suspect shoving a 92-year-old Asian man at an East Vancouver convenience store, where he yelled racist remarks, including comments about COVID-19.Netflix

Anti-Asian hatred in Canada

What statistics say

In Vancouver, the tally of hate incidents targeting East Asians went up sevenfold from 2019 to 2020. Local and provincial law-enforcement statistics have been warning since last spring that more needs to be done to combat such hatred. A crowdsourced Statistics Canada study found Canadians of Asian descent were more likely to report increased harassment during the pandemic.

Official response

In B.C., Premier John Horgan promised new steps this year to improve anti-racism legislation and encourage police to bring more hate incidents to prosecutors. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also denounced the rise in attacks against East Asian Canadians.

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Messages are posted on a solidarity wall to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press

What can I do?

  • Learn about and support mental-health resources: One of the major effects of rising anti-Asian discrimination is worsening mental health. Researchers at the University of British Columbia and York University found last year that, compared with white Canadians, Asian Canadians reported measurably poorer mental health that correlates strongly with feelings of discrimination. If you or someone you care about is struggling, consider a counselling service such as Kids Help Phone or advocacy groups like the Asian Mental Health Collective.
  • Learn about your local equity policies: Provincial and municipal governments have their own policies for combatting hate, but it can sometimes take a bit of research to report incidents or seek redress. Check your city government’s website or ask your elected representative to learn more.
  • Be a better bystander: Of the hate incidents recorded by AAPI last year, most were in businesses or public streets, places where bystander intervention can make a big difference if done safely and effectively. Some organizations offer online courses in intervention strategies, such as Hollaback!, which is offering free lessons in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Associated Press and Reuters

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