It was a beautiful spring evening March 24 when some 50 students, educators, and others
gathered on the lawn at Coastal Carolina University (CCU) near Myrtle Beach, SC, to express solidarity with their Asian brothers and sisters who have been so tragically targeted since the Covid 19 pandemic struck America just about one year ago.
It was a modest turnout when compared to many other such events that have been taking place in many communities across the country ever since eight people, including six Asian women, were gunned down at three Asian spas in Atlanta. But the vigil, led by two professors from the school’s Social Justice Research Initiative and Women's and Gender Studies, illustrated the depth of disgust and despair felt by many in the aftermath of such shootings.
It was the combination of two things that prompted the event in South Carolina -- growing animosity, threats, and violent acts against Asian Americans, exacerbated by Donald Trump and his Republican supporters, and a desire to keep firearms out of the hands of unstable and dangerous individuals. And then, just days later, 10 people were gunned down in a Boulder, CO supermarket.
The group Stop AAPI Hate tracked 3,795 "hate incidents" against the Asian American community between last March and the end of February 2021, according to a report released Tuesday. Those incidents include verbal harassment and physical attacks and are likely a vast undercount, the group said. Women of Asian descent reported 2.3 times more incidents of violence than men, NPR reported.
“There’s been a long history of hate against the Asian-American community in this country, as long as the history of this country,” said Deborah Perkins, CCU associate professor of sociology and founder and director of the Social Justice Research Initiative.
“More recently, you can fast forward to 2020 and there was a lot of anti-Asian-American sentiment by Donald Trump and the Trump administration,” Perkins said. “During his speeches he would fuel this, calling (Covid) the Kungflu, calling it the China Virus. He pandered to his base, and I think that led to a lot of the increase in anti-Asian sentiment to the point that we saw a 140 percent increase in violence against the Asian-American community in 2020. I think that’s where a lot of it comes from.”
Jaime McCauley, assistant professor of sociology at CCU and program director of the Social Justice Research Initiative, who was instrumental in organizing the vigil because she felt the need to demonstrate solidarity with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, expressed hope that change can come.
“I would love to see growing awareness across the country culturally about the issues of violence overall,” said McCauley, wearing a black mask emblazoned with the words, “Only Love Can Save Us Now.”
“This rally was a response to a mass shooting that happened a week ago, but now we have another mass shooting of random violence,” she said, referring to the supermarket slayings of 10 victims in Boulder, CO.
“I would like this event,” she said, “to lead to a greater cultural reflection and reckoning with our relationship with violence overall. I think that’s the root that we really need to get at to address these mass shootings – as well as to address the racism. You have one incident that was activated by racism and misogyny and another activated by other issues, and it looks like, unfortunately, that we’re all in danger. We just have a problem with violence in general.”
Looking to the future, the younger generations will be confronted with these issues and must be part of the solution, said Perkins, who explained that the Social Justice Research Initiative tries to increase education and student awareness of the issues and underlying inequalities and injustices so they can “come together and be part of the solution for change, to figure out how they can become involved, to ameliorate many of these issues that we talk about in our classrooms.”
Both were pleased at the turnout for the vigil. “To have this kind of energy among our students, I think is a great thing,” Perkins said. “I find so much hope among young people today. They want to be part of solutions for change. They want to learn about what the issues are, and I have a lot of hope. I have hope for our world because of what I see in these young people today.”
In helping to organize the event, the community activist organization Grand Strand Action Together (GSAT) pointed out that the organization recently called on Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC-7) “to apologize for his use of racist language during the pandemic. We hope that he can agree that as a community, we need to come together and show the local Asian community that we support them. Sadly…there has been another mass shooting in the United States. While we call on Rep. Rice and other elected officials to Stop Asian Hate, we can also remind them that we need gun reform now.”
GSAT was referring to Rice’s Facebook post last June 15 in which he announced that all three members of his household had “the Wuhan Flu,” one of former President Donald Trump’s favorite terms.
During a town hall meeting March 23, Rice made passing reference to the shootings and noted that he voted against two House-passed bills aimed at tightening background checks for gun purchasers. They included one sponsored by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) to close the “Charleston loophole” that allowed White supremacist Dylann Roof to purchase the weapon he used to gun down nine people praying in a historically Black church.
Rice did explain, however, that he sponsored a narrow bill that focused only on updating how criminal background information can be provided to those investigating firearms requests. Significantly, before he introduced the bill, he checked with the National Rifle Association to make sure they had no objections.
“It is time for all of us to stand against gun violence,” said Don Kohn, past chairman of the Horry County Democratic Party (HCDP). CCU is located in Horry County. "What would Rice have done if the NRA had said 'no'? Would he have introduced even that watered down bill? I think we can assume that he would not."
“These latest murders in Atlanta and Boulder just emphasize the importance of enacting sensible legislation to keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of those who would do harm," Kohn added. "And they demonstrate the need for Americans of all races to come together and support one another, including members of the Asian-American community. We at HCDP commend CCU and GSAT for sponsoring the vigil and for leading in the fight against violence and hate. We also need representatives in Congress who will represent the voters, not lobbying organizations like the NRA.”
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