Nearly two weeks after a white man in Atlanta killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, two dozen Oregon officials released a statement Wednesday expressing solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
"The shootings highlight the damage that can come from racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, racism against Asians and Asian Americans became increasingly normalized," wrote Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, in a joint letter with 23 other officials. "Politicians like former President Donald Trump continue to blame the pandemic on Asians and Asian Americans, regularly calling COVID-19 the 'China virus' and the 'kung flu.' Words matter, and these racist sentiments have consequences."
Violence against the Asian and Pacific Islander communities has spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic began, provoking racist attacks on people wrongfully blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Law enforcement has not ruled out racism as a motive in the Atlanta killings, which targeted women working at Asian spas.
The signatories of today's statement include many of the most prominent figures in Oregon politics, starting with Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. All Portland and Multnomah County commissioners signed the statement, as did Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and both of Oregon's U.S. senators. Every official who signed the statement is a Democrat, which may explain the pointed condemnation of Trump's xenophobic language.
The letter lists all eight of the Atlanta victims' names, a request made by many Asian people in the wake of the killings. Oregon has seen its own anecdotal spike in crimes directed at Asian Americans over the past year, including elderly people.
Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who is of Korean descent and signed this statement, spoke with WW last week, revealing personal details about how an incident across the country has impacted her and her family. She has a sister who lives in Atlanta.
"It's shaken me. I worry about our community and I worry about women. This is all quite frankly sickening to me," Stegmann says. "As an immigrant and a minority and as a woman—as a human being, my heart just breaks."