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Opinion: Let’s try listening to the targets of racist hate before the next mass shooting

Activists in Washington participate in a March 17 vigil in response to the Atlanta spa shootings.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 20, 2021 — and yes, at first I typed March, 20, 2020, because these 12 months have been the longest March in history. Let’s take a look back at the weekend in Opinion.

What a wrenching time this is. Much of the news lately has been remarkably good — coronavirus cases in California continue to decline, the pace of vaccination is increasing, and the economy is primed to boom (right around the corner, we’re told; just not now). But the steadily building anti-Asian hate in this country exploded in a terrible way this week, with the shooting deaths of eight people in Atlanta, six of them Asian women, precisely at the moment we’re to believe the end of this pandemic is in sight. In America, as with so much else, not even good news is distributed equitably.

The anti-Asian racism of late hasn’t been the dog-whistle variety — which itself is inexcusable and pernicious but at least signifies some discomfort with overt expressions of hate — but rather has been celebrated since the beginning of this pandemic by our last president. Writing the day after the mass killing in Atlanta, Opinion contributing writer Kurt Bardella recounted the dehumanizing experiences he endured throughout his life as a Korean American and blamed Donald Trump for putting a target on the backs of all Asian Americans. In a separate op-ed article, May-lee Chai remembered an experience with police in which she was suspected, without any evidence, of having been trafficked, and pointed to the Atlanta killings and the initial police explanation of them as the outcome of a “sexual addiction” as yet more examples of American culture’s relentless sexualization of Asian women.

It’s not as if we weren’t warned. Just two weeks ago, The Times editorial board noted with great dismay the stunning surge in anti-Asian violence in this country, and some readers shared their own experiences with this strain of racism. Early in the pandemic, actor John Cho took to our op-ed pages to warn of the rise in instances of hate and implored people to “stand up for your fellow Americans.”

Of course, mass murder ought always to shock us — but that a steadily building hatred caused a recent instance of it should not be surprising. Perhaps we should try listening to those targeted by that hate before there’s a sudden spike in the body count.

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Do you think you have a good sense of who the Georgia shooting suspect is? Don’t be so sure. Initially, the police to whom the suspected killer surrendered all but vouched for the guy’s character, blaming the shooting not on racism but on his self-professed sexual addiction. “Maybe we are asking the wrong people to evaluate murder suspects and ascertain their motives,” writes columnist Virginia Heffernan. “After all, every time police officers shoot an unarmed Black man, they reveal how hopeless they are at threat assessment.” L.A. Times

Separate, but related: An incident in Oklahoma shows that the perpetrators of racism are really good at shifting the blame. In Norman, Okla., a left-leaning university town in an otherwise deep-red state, a high school basketball announcer called a group of players the N-word during a game. That offense, which the announcer insists doesn’t expose him as a racist, plus less obvious instances of bigotry, make for an utterly toxic environment in Norman. Says columnist LZ Granderson: “How do you think Black people in Norman processed [the announcer’s] rant ... knowing they are in a former sundown town, an all-white city where Black people were not allowed after sunset? Where the Tulsa massacre of 1921 took place just two hours north and where mass graves are still being discovered?” L.A. Times

We’re doing this again, California? The 2003 recall that removed Gray Davis from the governorship and installed Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place made a mockery of California politics from which our state has only arguably, and only recently, recovered. So we’ll give it another go, it seems, as opponents of sitting Gov. Gavin Newsom appear to have obtained the petition signatures necessary to authorize a recall election. But this could backfire on Republicans, warns the editorial board: “In fact, if Republican candidates end up splitting their voting bloc, it’s entirely possible that the state could end up with a replacement who is more liberal than Newsom.” L.A. Times

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Venice residents typically coexist peacefully with their unhoused neighbors. Not this time. Columnist Robin Abcarian tells the harrowing tale of Talia Landman, a 30-year-old ultramarathon runner whose life, for a while, revolved around persistent torments she endured from a man who threatened to rape and kill her. Now, with the man in custody and facing years in prison, Landman and her neighbors fear that the progressive policies of Los Angeles County’s new district attorney will have him back in their neighborhood sooner rather than later. L.A. Times

Full-time, in-person schooling: It’s where the science is heading. Our editorial board has been persistent in its advocacy for schools in California to reopen for on-campus instruction. The reopening plans announced by L.A. Unified and other school districts, however, fall far short of what the editorial board says the accumulating science demands: “If the CDC goes ahead with the new guidance it’s been hinting at — it’s reviewing the evidence right now — there would be little to no reason to not reopen schools full-time now, in the summer and in the fall.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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