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"We Need To Do More." Asian Americans Voice Anger, Frustration After Atlanta Shooting

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: And I'm Leila Fadel in Minneapolis. I'm over a thousand miles away from the site of that hate-filled rampage. But it sent shockwaves through Asian American communities across this country. They saw the killing of people that looked like them after a year of rising hate.

SEAN YANG: It's just hard to watch and just go through it.

FADEL: That's Sean Yang (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

YANG: OK. Yeah. Sure, sure.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Because I just know her...

FADEL: Today he's running his sister's beauty business in a Hmong shopping complex in St. Paul.

YANG: Yeah. I just come here to take her place and just work for her and just let her be safe for now.

FADEL: Six of the eight victims in Atlanta were Asian women like his sister. Yang thinks that's why they were killed. And he says he's not surprised after so many people, including elected officials, scapegoated Asians for the pandemic. Last month, he started carrying a knife, started thinking twice about where he went, started watching his surroundings.

YANG: You know, you've got to, like, protect yourself, you know, somehow. Like, protect your parents. Protect your people, you know?

FADEL: Nearby, Mayta Lo, 24, is picking up lunch at the food court in sweatpants and pink hoodie.

MAYTA LO: It's definitely a hate crime against Asian people just because of a outbreak that has nothing to do with Asian people over here.

FADEL: Here in this shopping complex, she feels safe because this place is for and by her community. But it's also what makes her worry it could become a target.

LO: If it happened there, it could happen here even though there's a lot of us here. So it's pretty scary nowadays.

FADEL: She says she's gotten the racist comments online. And the shooting, she says, is what happens after allowing this kind of racism to flourish.

LO: Because it's common. But nobody wants to say anything until something like that happens.

FADEL: Bo Thao-Urabe says her organization, the Coalition of Asian American Leaders in Minnesota, started sounding the alarm last year when the calls from Asian American communities started rolling in in February.

BO THAO-URABE: They felt they could not go about their daily activities because they were being verbally harassed or just not served.

FADEL: The incidents got worse, like the couple in a suburb of Minneapolis who came home to a note on their door. We're watching you, it said. Take the Chinese virus back to China. We don't want you here infecting us with your diseases. The note was signed, your friendly neighborhood. Urabe says her organization got proactive, started reaching out to local agencies and community leaders to say...

THAO-URABE: Hey, this is something we should pay attention to. We need to do more. We are concerned. And so when something happens, I think it really broke the community's hearts.

FADEL: But in the midst of this pandemic, the community can't grieve together safely. So Urabe's organization put together a Zoom call to honor the lives lost with the governor of Minnesota, other state officials and community leaders. Four monks from Wat Thai, a Thai Buddhist temple in St. Louis Park, led a chant for healing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MONKS: (Praying in non-English language).

FADEL: After state leaders condemned the violence, after prayers and tears, Urabe asked visitors to leave so that she and other Asian Americans could be alone to grieve with each other.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAIGO HANADA'S "UNDER THE STARRY SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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