‘I felt kind of numb’: Spokane’s Asian American community holds vigil in honor of Atlanta shooting victims

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Spokane Asian American community is mourning and remembering the lives lost in the Atlanta shootings earlier this week. A gunman killed eight people, and six were women of Asian descent.

“You never think something like that would happen to you or it’d hit so close to home,” said Vina Cathcart, the founder of ‘Spokane’s United We Stand’ group.

The shootings hit very close to home for the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. They came at a time when the community is already vulnerable.

A California State University report shows anti-Asian hate crimes increased nearly 150 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Cathcart and her group put together a vigil in downtown Spokane. The AAPI community is asking for unity and understanding, wanting people to come together and fight against the same cause, against racism.

Police arrested a 21-year-old suspect in connection to the shootings.

“Just seeing all these recent hate crimes against Asian Americans has really affected me, too, and just made me, and especially my parents, who are older, feel kind of scared to even go out in public,” said Rosie Zhou.

Growing up, knowing she was Chinese American, she was still made very aware of that by other people. Zhou said she was on the receiving end of jokes people thought were funny. She said people would say she did well on tests because she was Asian.

“Like, comments about eating cats and dogs, it just, it really affected me at the time,” she said. “It made me feel like I didn’t belong almost, like I was this foreigner in America, not truly American.”

Seeing and hearing about the shooting Tuesday night, she was still processing what happened.

“I felt kind of numb, really,” she said.

The Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, the agency investigating the shootings, still has not said if there was a racist motive.

It frustrated activists, knowing that the suspect drove about 30 miles to another spa. Activists say there is a pattern. It’s a pattern of Asian Americans being targeted.

“I just felt so sad and just reading the stories of Xioajie Tan and Hyun Jung Grant… Reading about their families and all of their dreams and hopes for the future. That was really what shook me the most,” Zhou said.

In addition to not pinpointing a motive right away, the Asian Pacific Islander community is outraged by the comments of the sheriff’s office on Wednesday in a press conference. A spokesperson had said the suspect was “at the end of his rope,” and he “was having a bad day.” Since then, the sheriff’s office has apologized, and that spokesperson was taken off the case.

“You can condemn an act of hatred. You can condemn a crime. You can condemn acts of violence. There’s no problem against that. But, to say he had a bad day? I’ve had bad days. I do not go around killing people,” Cathcart said.

Stop AAPI Hate, an organization which tracks hate incidents against Asian American Pacific Islanders, reported nearly 3,800 hate incidents from March 2020 to last April.

Cathcart says she was a victim of a verbal racist attack in a Spokane store a few months after the pandemic began.

“It was just me and this other woman at the end of the aisle,” she recalled. “As we were crossing, I overheard her on the phone and she said, “Oh, my god, an Asian just walked into the aisle, I’m going to die of corona.” And then, it was just shock. What do you say to that?”

Education and speaking out against what is wrong, is what Cathcart and others in the Asian American Pacific Islander Community want. Zhou adds that there could be micro-aggressions towards Asian Americans and that it is important to call them out when it happens.

People came together Saturday evening asking for that, while also honoring the lives lost and wanting to make their voices heard.

Cathcart says she is seeing an increase in support for the AAPI community, and she appreciates the efforts, but she hopes it continues beyond the tragic events.

“We need to consistently engage people to talk about, ‘Hey, how can I make this community better for Asian Americans? How can I make this better for Latino Americans?'” she continued. “At the end of the day, we’re all Americans, we have to figure out how to live here together.”

“We as Asian Americans, we belong here, we have contributed so much to this country and we are contributing so much to this country,” said Zhou. “We are not some foreigners who don’t deserve any respect… We speak up for ourselves and each other. We stand up against racism that we face, and we are stronger together.”

RELATED: Spokane’s Asian American community shares resources to combat anti-Asian violence in wake of shootings