Grieving over Atlanta shootings

Our country has once again experienced a mass killing. On March 16, eight people were killed in the Atlanta area, six of them Asian American women. This is a cause for grief on at least four levels.

First, of course, I grieve for those who lost their lives, and for those who lost their loves ones. The victims were people made in the image of God, whose lives were snuffed out because of someone else’s anger, fear, and violence.

Secondly, I grieve over the fact that there is a strain of anti-Asian prejudice in American society. Our country has a long history of bias, exclusion, and violence against people of Asian background. In just the last year, police and Asian American organizations have noted a surge of cases of harassment and violence against people of Asian descent, whom some perpetrators associate with the coronavirus.

Thirdly, I grieve that many Asian Americans, and Asians residing in the country, live daily with the fear of facing stereotypes, prejudice and physical attack. The killings in Atlanta on March 16 have only heightened those fears.

Fourthly, I grieve even for the gunman. Yes, he must be held accountable. But here is another young man who will likely spend his entire life behind bars, rather than out contributing to society. What a waste, and what a devastating blow to his family.

The issue of anti-Asian bias hits home for me because of my past work as a campus minister at the University of Iowa. Many Asian students and professors attended our home Bible studies and became our friends. I never heard them complain of any prejudice by Americans against Asians. However, when Korean-American student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in April, 2007, our friends expressed concern that Americans would harass or harm them. They cited instances in other states where that had happened because of the shooting. For the first time they also spoke about the general prejudice that some Americans had against Asian people.

That experience at Iowa showed me how vulnerable and fearful a minority population can feel, even because of events that happen in another part of the country. It also showed me that just because my minority friends may never mention racism, it does not mean that they are unaffected by it. As a white person, I was totally unaware of how my friends felt until that shooting brought the subject to the forefront.

Perhaps this latest shooting will encourage us all to learn more about the experiences of our fellow Americans, and of our non-citizen neighbors, who are of Asian descent. Hopefully it will also remind us how harmful prejudice toward any race can be. Let us all do what we can to build a community and a country in which people of any and all backgrounds are treated with understanding, respect, and justice. Surely that is God’s intent for the human family.


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