Public Health Organizations Denounce Anti-Asian Violence

Anti-Asian violence protest sign.

Photo by David Ryder / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Public health and medical organizations released statements calling for an end to anti-Asian hate and gun violence.
  • Incidents of hate targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have spiked since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
  • After a series of shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, last week, public health officials are calling for gun reform and increased mental health services to support Asian American communities.

In the wake of a shooting that left eight Asian women dead at three spas in the Atlanta area last week, calls to end anti-Asian violence are in full force.

The shooting comes at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are skyrocketing. The organization Stop AAPI Hate reported 3,796 incidents of hate between March 2020 and February 2021, 987 of which occurred in the first three months of this year.

“We are saddened and angry that once again we must grieve the violent murders of innocent people," the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) wrote in a statement last week. "This tragedy is an indication that the racism directed at Asian Americans is becoming more violent and deadly."

Various health and medical organizations have spoken out against the harmful public health crises driven by racism, gun violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to work together to better understand the culture of violence in our nation, identify commonsense solutions and not allow hate to divide us at the very time we need everyone’s help in ending these dual public health crises,” American Public Health Association (APHA) Executive Director, Georges Benjamin, MD, said in a statement.

What This Means For You

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health amidst an uptick in anti-Asian violence, you can find mental health providers to help at the Bridges directory or the Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American Therapist directory. If you need immediate help, you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Spike in Racist Attacks

Early in the pandemic, “xenophobic language around the virus threatened to further fuel discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans, which were already a significant concern due to longstanding interpersonal and structural racism,” American Medical Association (AMA) president Susan Bailey said in a statement following the attacks. In December, the AMA declared racism a public health threat, and the organization determined gun violence is a public health threat in 2016.  

According to Pew Research Center data from July, three in 10 Asian adults say they have been targeted with racial slurs or jokes about their race or ethnicity since the pandemic began in the U.S.

Some advocates say that incidents of hate are underreported, creating hurdles for people trying to understand and tackle the problem. According to the Stop AAPI data, which was collected on a volunteer basis, verbal harassment and shunning made up more than 88% of the incidents and 11% involved physical assault. Because legal definitions of hate crimes vary by state, many cases of verbal harassment and civil rights infringements may not be reflected in official data.

President Biden acknowledged the apparent spike in racism and xenophobia in a January 26 executive order calling for action against intolerance of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The memorandum calls for “advancing cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders” in the federal government’s COVID-19 response, and it encourages agencies to consult with public health experts to support these communities.

Gun Violence Is a Public Health Crisis

In statements following the shooting, the AMA and APHA called out gun violence as a public health crisis, noting the need for gun reform legislation to ensure safety in communities nationwide.

“If you're in constant stress or constant fear, it's going to increase the wear and tear on your body, and it is going to potentially undermine your sense of security…making it more difficult for some people to go outside of their home to go to places that they felt safe before,” Susan Polan, PhD, public affairs and advocacy associate executive director for the APHA, tells Verywell.

Mass shootings can have intense and wide-reaching implications for survivors. About 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder and about a third develop acute stress disorder, estimates the National Center for PTSD. Witnesses to the violence and family and community members alike may experience anxiety, stress, and depression.

“Mental health issues are both understudied and undertreated,” Polan says. “But we do know that the likelihood of increased anxiety and stress is going to have long-term both physical and mental implications for people, and particularly for the Asian American community.”

Safeguarding Mental Health

As individuals and communities cope with the aftermath of the March 16 shootings and other cases of anti-Asian violence, organizations are working to promote access to mental health services. This effort includes working to destigmatize mental health services, increasing accessibility, and ensuring that people can access mental health professionals who share similar life experiences with them.

“In the last half of last year, there was a growing recognition that this is not just an issue of people potentially dealing with an infectious disease, this is an issue of people who are cut off from all their social ties who are unable to interact in a normal way, who are being taught to be afraid of people in their community,” Polan says.

The AAPA encourages Asian and Asian American people in their communities to take time and space for self-care and for supporting their family and friends.

“For allies and supporters, we encourage you to reach out to Asian and Asian American folks within your network to allow space for sharing, venting, grieving, fear, and any other emotions that might arise," they wrote in the statement.

The organization encourages allies not to reach out to people they don’t have a strong relationship with just to “feel good about” their allyship. It also urges people to discuss racism and its effects with children and to take steps toward dismantling systems of oppression within their own communities.

“We are in this together, and every voice and contribution adds to our strength as a united nation and as mental health professionals dedicated to the care and safety of all,” they wrote.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jeung R, Yellow Horse A, Popovic T et al. Stop AAPI Hate National Report. March 19, 2021. 

  2. Ruiz N, Horowitz J, Tamir C. Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak. Pew Research Center. July 1, 2020. 

  3. The White House. Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. January 26, 2021.

  4. McLaughlin K, Kar J. Aftermath of the Parkland Shooting: A Case Report of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in an Adolescent Survivor. Cureus. 2019. doi:10.7759/cureus.6146

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.