On March 21, approximately 150 people gathered at the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse in Eugene for a #StopAsianHate rally starting at 11 a.m.
Five days earlier, on March 16, eight people—including six Asian women—were murdered during a killing spree across three spa and massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia.
As of publishing, the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long has been charged with four counts of murder by the Atlanta Police Department and four counts of murder, plus one count of aggravated assault, by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
However, despite the majority of the shooting victims being Asian and a surging wave of anti-Asian attacks due, in part, to the pandemic, authorities have yet to call the mass murder a hate crime.
The rally in Eugene began with a speaker reciting the names, and brief descriptions, of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng prior to a moment of silence.
A community discussion was then opened up for local Asian and Asian-Americans to speak about their experiences both in Eugene and elsewhere in their lives.
One man who spoke emphasized that the reason for organizing this event was not for themselves but for future generations. The speaker, a father of two, said that he, much like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has a dream for his children.
He said he dreams of a future where his children won’t be harassed and told to “go back to China,” or be harassed by the way they look, and, like MLK Jr. said, are to be judged by the content of their character.
The president of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP, Ibrahim Coulibaly, also spoke and said that now is the time to organize. He further emphasized that what happened in Atlanta could happen here in Eugene, or anywhere, now that people willing to attack Asian Americans are coming out of the woodwork.
After a few more speeches and a quick announcement about the candlelight vigil later in the evening, the rally ended around 12:15 p.m. A more complete thread of the event can be found here.
Eight Lit Candles
That same day, just after 6 p.m., around 60-80 people gathered at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza for a “Candlelight Remembrance” led by the Asian American Council of Oregon.
Under the roof of the Lane County Circuit Court, a table with eight lit candles—one for each of those killed in Atlanta—and a sign with each of their names.
Susan Soonkeum Cox, who is Eugene’s Honorary Consul for the Republic of Korea— where, notably, Jinju is one of our four sister cities—led the memorial.
Commissioner for the Oregon Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, David Tam, spoke about his childhood in Depoe Bay, Oregon, a town of around 600 people at the time.Tam was the only non-white person at grade school there and in Lincoln City where he went to high school.
He said that the community looked after his family and that when he came to Eugene, the Asian-American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community welcomed him.
The next speaker was the city’s Council President, Jennifer Yeh, who holds several key positions within city government, including spots on the Police Commission and the Budget Committee
Yeh, who is white, spoke about being “married into a family of Chinese descent,” that she had not only learned to love the culture, “but have a front row seat to the discrimination.”
Juine Chada, a Field Representative for Senator Ron Wyden, also read a statement from the senator.
“Friends, this isn’t complicated. The message today and every day of the year must be no tolerance for racism or bias here in Eugene, throughout Oregon, and in our entire country.
As a son of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, I know, full well, how destructive hate speech [inaudible]… cruel words have dire consequences then and hateful words cary awful potential now but America has the people with the biggest platforms amplifying racist rhetoric.
With more than 3,000 hate incidents towards Asian-Americans in 2020 alone, being vigilant against racism and hate is [inaudible].
Thank you for asking me to share a message tonight. Rest assured, I will always stand with the Asian-American community against hate speech, hate crimes, racism, and xenophobia.”
Lane County Commissioner, Laurie Trieger, spoke next and cited an interview where Oregon State Representative Khanh Pham, was asked about why these killings hadn’t been labeled a hate crime.
About herself, she said “My own mother came to this country in 1946, a Jewish teenager fleeing Nazi persecution. Before immigrating to New York, she was sheltered by three different families in England.”
“I am alive, today, because people who didn’t look or believe like my mother felt a responsibility to protect her, risking their own comfort and safety,” Trieger said. “To my friends, and my neighbors from the AAPI community, I am here for you.”
Trieger added, “I stand in solidarity with you. I grieve with you. And I commit to working with you and doing all I can for you, and your children, and generations to follow.”
“I can’t take away your fear and your pain, but tonight, I can share in your grief.”
Val Hoyle, the state’s Commissioner of Labor and Industries, spoke next and reiterated to those that had gathered that “those murders did not happen in a vacuum.”
“Those murders did not happen because one person just thought one thing,” she said. “There is a culture that we have been taught that as white people, that we are superior to people of other races.”
At around 6:30 p.m., tealights were passed out and lit prior to a reading of the victims’ names and a moment of silence. Shortly thereafter, after another round of thanks and appreciation for everyone that gathered, the vigil ended in a prayer.
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