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Queens electeds join community leaders at candlelight vigil for Atlanta mass shooting victims

Elected officials gathered at Borough Hall for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Atlanta shooting. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

A little more than a month after Queens Borough President Donavan Richards held a press conference addressing the steep rise in AAPI hate crimes, the borough president joined elected officials and members of the community outside Borough Hall on March 29. This time, they were there to remember the victims of the Atlanta mass shooting with a candlelight vigil.

On March 16, a 21-year-old gunman allegedly shot and killed eight people, including six Asian American women.

Deputy Borough President Rhona Binda was the first to speak at the candlelight vigil and encouraged everyone in attendance to empower each other in the face of adversity.

“Let’s work hard and continue to partner together so that the next time we gather here, it will be in celebration and empowerment and that we’re elevating our communities,” Binda said before introducing Richards.

The borough president began his speech by chanting, “stop Asian hate” before observing a moment of silence for the victims of Atlanta and the victims of verbal and physical hate crimes across the country.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Richards referred to the two pandemics the country is dealing with — COVID-19 and hate — and he made clear that hate has been part of this country for hundreds of years.

“This pandemic called hate, there is no vaccine that can cure it. Let me say that again, this pandemic called hate won’t be cured by Pfizer or Moderna,” the borough president said before encouraging Queens residents to stand together and speak out against hate crimes against their neighbors.

He explained that Queens, the “World’s Borough,” represents residents from over 190 countries with 350 different languages spoken, making it the most diverse county in the United States where diversity should be celebrated. And he had a stern message for those trying to sow discord.

“So while there may be those who look to build walls. We build bridges here in Queens County,” Richards said. “That’s what makes us great. So make no mistake, if you’re a hater, pack your bags. You’re not welcome here.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng shared that she met with some of the victims’ families in Atlanta on Sunday, who talked about their pain and shared stories about their loved ones. She pointed out that the tragic events in Atlanta had given a voice to many members of the AAPI community who have never felt “American enough.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“I told the families that the history and the contributions of their loved ones, though tragic, have helped tremendously in giving voice to so many in this country. Many Asian Americans, and many of them women, whose voices and stories have never really been viewed as being American enough,” Meng said.

Meng, the first Asian American elected to Congress from New York, thanked the communities that have rallied around the Asian Americans in recent months, standing up against racism, and pointed out the importance of retelling the victims’ stories.

“As leaders in the community, we need to be very careful about how we talk about these incidents; how we frame the narrative is very important. We need to make sure that we are constructive with every story and retelling of the incidents that are happening and think about ways that we can be productive going forward,” the congresswoman explained.

Meng thanked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has made it his priority to fight hate and bigotry against Asian Americans.

The longtime Democratic senator from Brooklyn declared that the community stood with all Asian Americans who have been the victims of hate crimes and not to allow bigots to intimidate them. 

“We know that diversity is our strength. We know that hatred, divisiveness, is our enemy,” Schumer said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a president for four years who has never stood up against bigotry when he should. Who has allowed these forces, these evil forces that sometimes lay below the surface, to come up to the top. And who has participated when he talked about the pandemic in Asian bigotry himself. And he knew damn well what he was doing.”

Senator Chuck Schumer. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

 “So we stand with you,” he emphasized. “We stand with people of goodwill throughout Queens throughout New York and throughout America.”

Queens State Senator Liu described a hate crime that occurred on the subway in recent days when an Asian American man was brutally beaten until he was incapacitated.

Exasperated, the senator said, “I mean, what kind of hate is displayed in this kind of attack? By now, the video has gone viral. And when you watch these videos, you don’t know whether to be completely outraged beyond your senses or just to be so fearful that another human being could carry out that kind of attack.”

But he took solace that the attackers are a small minority, and he was thankful for the outpouring of support for the Asian American community.

“It’s important that we come out every time the borough president or a local community organization or church or institutional faith even a school. When they have these vigils, and when they have these support rallies, it’s very helpful to a hurting community. It’s not easy, but being together and united will make it somewhat easier,” Liu said.

State Senator John Liu. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Ahyoung Kim, associate director of small business programs at Asian American Federation, reported that she spoke to a third-generation store owner in Flushing recently. He shared that his family was shaken up and stayed home as much as possible because of the rise in hate crimes. “But what can I do? I’ve to mend the store,” he told her and said that anti-Asian American sentiments were nothing new.

Kim agreed that bias directed toward Asian Americans was part of the American story.

“The bias and hate against Asian Americans is part of the living history that our community has been putting up with,” she said. “We have been a target of blame and hate in forms of internment camps, the racism of casual jeers and objectification and the erasure of our existence.”

She said that for too long, the pleas for help from the AAPI community have been ignored and dismissed with the excuse that they didn’t speak up loud enough.

“We didn’t create this hate, we have been speaking out, but our cries were unheard. Now we are going to be loud. We’re going to stand up against hate. We are here gathered together as a community, and we’re going to stand up against hate, and we’re going to speak louder than ever,” Kim said.

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