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First Asian-American State Senator In Georgia Speaks Out To Colleagues On Shooting

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Georgia State Senator Michelle Au stood before her colleagues on Monday and spoke about an alarming rise in hate crimes in their state against people of Asian descent and, of course, beyond since the coronaviruses pandemic began.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE AU: Recognize that we need help, we need protection, and we need people in power to stand up with us against hate.

SIMON: The very next day, eight people were shot to death at three businesses in Atlanta. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent. State Senator and Doctor Michelle Au joins us now. Senator, Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

AU: Thank you for having me this morning, Scott.

SIMON: How are you doing? I - it must be hard to hear your words back and then have them - well, have them given such resonance just a day later.

AU: It is hard because one really doesn't want to be right about certain things even if we know that the message is correct. And I think that how I and many of the people in the AAPI community feel at this moment is incredibly tired but galvanized to work towards change now that it seems like we finally have some attention to this issue.

SIMON: Law enforcement officials haven't labeled the killings a hate crime. They say they're investigating all possible motives. But as we keep noting, seven of the eight victims were women. And racism and misogyny are especially intertwined with the history of Asian American women in this country, aren't they?

AU: Yes, they are. And I want to speak about the law enforcement approach. Obviously, it's very good to be prudent and judicious in how we're approaching speculating about the motivations behind a hate crime. But I do find it appalling, some of the gentleness and the empathy with which some of the Cherokee County police had been speaking about the shooter in this case and taking the shooter - the murderer's words at face value when he says that race was not a motivating factor. All we have to look at is that the population of Georgia is 4% Asian American Pacific Islander. However, of the murder victims, 75% were Asian. And 7 out of 8 were women. It's impossible to tease these things apart. And it's quite a coincidence if it was not at least influenced by race in some way.

SIMON: I have been to your district in Duluth - or your city. I think of it as very artsy - you know, the Red Clay Theater, Gwinnett Cultural Center, Hudgens Center. You grew up in New York. Tell us about your changing community there in Georgia.

AU: Scott, this area in particular, and metro Atlanta at - as a large, you know, block has been changing incredibly over the past decade that I've been living up here. And all I have to do to point to how much that change has manifested is - I'm currently a Georgia state senator. I was just sworn in in January. Just two years ago, the person who held the same seat that I'm sitting in now is currently the chair of the Georgia GOP.

Our area is incredibly diverse. And one of the notable things about our area is that it has the highest percentage of Asian American Pacific Islanders in the state. I think we have more than 24% Asian Americans as of the last census. And that was 10 years ago.

SIMON: And how are you feeling this weekend after President Biden and Vice President Harris?

AU: I have to say, it was such an incredible moment to see both our president and our vice president take the time out of their incredibly busy travel schedule during a very short visit to Atlanta to really sit with us for more than 90 minutes - members, leaders of the Asian American Pacific Islander community - and show, I see you. I hear you. You are not an ignored population, and we're going to work on this together. I think often we feel minimized, and we feel that our problems are brushed to the side. So this is incredibly meaningful that they took the time for Asian Americans in the wake of this tragedy.

SIMON: Georgia State Senator Michelle Au. Doctor, thank you very much for being with us on this weekend. We appreciate it.

AU: Thank you so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.