Atlanta shootings a wake-up call for Asian community

Woman addressing crowd with bullhorn


When Lihong Teng saw news reports about a mass shooting in Atlanta where six of the eight people who were killed were Asian women, she was heartbroken and outraged, especially since local law enforcement did not consider it a hate crime.

The shooting, she said, was a chilling wake-up call.

“For me, it’s like I know it exists but … it makes me feel like it’s real — the hate, the violence, that discrimination is a real thing that exists for the Asian community, specifically,” said Teng, a research scientist in the Department of Medicine.

The shooting in Atlanta on March 16 is the latest in a spike in anti-Asian violence nationwide. In response, several University of Pittsburgh leaders offered solidarity and support to its Asian and Asian-American communities.


Chancellor Patrick Gallagher: “The University of Pittsburgh stands in steadfast solidarity with our Asian students, faculty, staff, alumni, partners and friends. As a community, we firmly denounce anti-Asian discrimination of any kind. As a society, we can and must do better.”

Provost Ann Cudd: “I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Atlanta shootings …, and especially because they targeted women, particularly Asian-American women. Racist and misogynistic hate so deeply traumatizes our minority communities and reminds women that they are never safe. Such hate should have no home in our country, yet the reality is that it does. Let us work together across difference to understand and appreciate difference. Diversity — when we all can feel that we are valued equally — makes us stronger, smarter, kinder and more resilient.”

Clyde Pickett, vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: “Throughout the past year in our COVID-19 pandemic state, and notably in the past few weeks, our country continues to witness and experience a rise in anti-Asian racism and violence spurred on by baseless, irrational assumptions and biased leaps of logic that cannot and should not be validated. … Our Asian and Asian-American communities are vital threads of the Pitt fabric, contributing greatly to our enriching, multicultural experience and excellence. Our racial diversity is our strength, and it is crucial that everyone feel safe and supported here at Pitt.” Read his full statement here.

Jimmy Martin II, dean of the Swanson School of Engineering: “This past year we have battled not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also an epidemic of bigotry, racism, misogyny and hate in our country. Yet, just as defeating the coronavirus requires a shared respect for science, education and each other — as much as it does a vaccine — so too does combating racial and social injustice demand an understanding of and appreciation for each other. No matter our color, creed, nationality, sexuality or ability, we must stand together as a community to face hate with resolve and deny it a voice on our campus and in our neighborhoods—whether here in Pittsburgh or elsewhere around the world.” Read his full statement here.

Find other statements from University leaders on Pittwire.

The increasing violence has left Teng, co-chair of Pitt’s Chinese Affinity Group, feeling “a lot more fear in her heart” for her family, friends and children.

“Those shooting things happen. It could happen anywhere,” Teng said. “We cannot ignore it anymore.”

Teng and Wen Xie, chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy, were among hundreds who attended a vigil on March 21 that honored the victims of the shooting.

A Stop the Asian Hate Rally on March 20, organized by Thrash the State, also drew hundreds to Oakland to bring awareness to the violence. Actress Sandra Oh, who is in town filming her new Netflix show, “The Chair,” joined the protesters. Another rally on March 24, organized by members of the East Coast Asian American Student Union and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, attracted hundreds to Flagstaff Hill in Oakland.

Xie, angered by the shooting, said he’s done some reflecting since the incident. He realized that even though Chinese people and other Asians came to the country 200 years ago, shortly after it was founded, they have historically still been treated as foreigners and subjected to racial violence and discrimination.

“We actually are not that late (to the U.S.),” Xie said. “Even though we’re a couple of years later than some other people, that doesn’t mean our contribution is less than any other groups.”

Xie and Teng were especially frustrated when a Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department representative in Georgia said the shooter was “having a bad day” leading up to the incident.  

“He kind of gave the benefit of doubt to the criminal, the person who committed the massacre, which is totally wrong,” Xie said.

Teng agreed that the statement on the shooter was outrageous and is indicative of a larger moral decay in U.S. society.

“The law enforcement, they should be on the side of public and on the side of the victims, but he is showing sympathy for the shooter,” Teng said. “It’s just not right … I just feel like this society doesn’t have the judgment for right and wrong anymore.”

Teng attributes several factors to this recent increase in Asian violence in the nation.

Toxic rhetoric from politicians calling COVID-19 “the China virus,” and misleading news reports may have misled the public into believing that the spread of the virus was solely the fault of Chinese and other Asian people.

Political leaders have manipulated the hate, fear and violence to suit their political agendas, Xie said, using Asian people as a scapegoat.

“They just target the vulnerable because they don’t fear the consequence for doing that,” Xie said, adding that hatred is dangerous for everyone, not just its victims.

Lu-in Wang, vice provost for Faculty Affairs and a professor of law, told Pittwire these crimes are not solely driven by hate. Wang has thoroughly researched discrimination, authoring the book “Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine.”

“It’s important to understand that bias crimes are not always driven by a single, ‘pure’ motive like hate; they are often crimes of opportunism,” Wang said. “What motivates a perpetrator is the very thing that makes these crimes so frightening and harmful: the idea that the members of particular social groups are suitable or acceptable targets for violence and harassment.”

Teng called for Asians and Asian-Americans to stand up for themselves and speak more about their experiences with racism. Additionally, she encouraged Asian people to collaborate with other oppressed groups in addressing systemic racism.

But these issues cannot be solved by the communities alone, Teng and Xie said. There needs to be more reform to education, political rhetoric, law enforcement and public health things to address systemic racism.

“If we are not careful,” Xie said. “History just keeps repeating itself.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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