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March 17, 2021

Following the murders of six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia, the ACLU of Virginia issued the following statement that should be attributed to its Executive Director, Claire G. Gastañaga:

"We awoke this morning to news of the murders of Asian women in Atlanta that are yet another example of inhumanity and violence being directed toward members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community across our country – inhumanity that dates back to the earliest days of our republic and has escalated since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a year ago. We grieve for the lives lost and for the fear and terror that members of AAPI communities feel at this moment.

"Such violence and the discrimination and othering visited on the AAPI community offend our values that center people, justice and equality in our work. The struggle for equal protection and equity for AAPI people and communities is interconnected with all movements for racial justice. We won’t rest until the rights guaranteed to “We the People” are truly afforded to all of us, and no one is unsafe on our streets or in our communities because of who they are.

"A year ago, the ACLU of Virginia joined NAKASEC Virginia in calling on the Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring, to denounce violence against AAPI people in Virginia and state that they are “an integral part of our communities.” We asked Herring “to exert strong leadership against discrimination and in favor of ensuring that all Virginians can participate fully in the life of our Commonwealth without fear and with full language access to all public programs and benefits.” Twenty percent of Asian American households in Virginia are linguistically isolated.

"Our request for action reflected our concern early in the pandemic about the rising tide of violence and discrimination directed toward AAPI people following the outbreak of COVID-19 and about the adverse consequences to the life and health of AAPI Virginians that could result from the Commonwealth’s continuing failure to ensure language access in state programs – a failure that was documented by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in 2004. We asked the attorney general to “use the new authority granted your office in [legislation] enacted [in 2020] to initiate civil ac­tions against those who discriminate against Asian Americans in violation of the amended Virginia Human Rights Act in employment, housing or public accommodations …” and to go further and take action to ensure people are not denied access to public programs or benefits because of limited English proficiency in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

"In the year since we made our request, the pandemic has continued to kill and attacks on and fear in the AAPI community have escalated. Nonetheless, no effective and coordinated response has been forthcoming from Virginia’s leaders. The failure to address language access has had the adverse consequences for immigrant communities seeking information and health care during the pandemic that we predicted and as outlined by NAKASEC Virginia Director Sookyung Oh in a recent column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. And, violent attacks on older members of the AAPI community in San Francisco and other cities have spread fear among community elders across the country, including Virginia, without a response from our leaders here. The shootings in Atlanta yesterday that apparently targeted Asian women must add new urgency to our concern and impel action.

"The president of the United States recently issued a memorandum condemning violence against AAPI people in the United States and specifically directed that “the Attorney General [of the United States] shall explore opportunities to support, consistent with applicable law, the efforts of State and local agencies, as well as AAPI communities and community-based organizations, to prevent discrimination, bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI individuals, and to expand collection of data and public reporting regarding hate incidents against such individuals.”

"So, in light of the growing evidence of real harm to AAPI people and their communities, we now ask the Virginia attorney general, the governor, the lieutenant governor and all candidates for statewide office in 2021: What actions will you take to document and prevent violence and discrimination against AAPI people in Virginia that the United States attorney general can support?

"AAPI people belong here. They are valuable members of our communities and have made countless contributions to America. We all have an obligation to speak up and speak out when our AAPI neighbors are under attack. Silence sends the signal that anti-AAPI hate is acceptable and furthers the erasure of AAPI histories and struggles from dialogues about racial equity and justice.

"We look forward to learning what our leaders in Virginia will do to meet this challenge."