Hundreds gathered to commemorate the lives lost in the mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in downtown Boise on Tuesday evening.
On March 16, Robert Aaron Long shot and killed eight people, six of which were Asian-American women, in three different spas.
People poured into the small amphitheater adjacent to the Boise River to honor the victims: Xiaojie Tan, Delania Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park and Suncha Kim. Many carried flowers, signs and photographs of those lost.
The vigil was organized to recognize the Atlanta victims and all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) victims of hate crimes and racial injustices. The event was hosted by the Boise Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).
Elena Li, of the Idaho Chinese Organization youth branch, opened the vigil by reading about each victim, including quotes and anecdotes from the victims’ friends and families.
Cheyon Sheen, a Boise State student, spoke about her mother’s struggles as a healthcare worker, who has had direct experience being racially discriminated against by patients. Sheen went on to say that no one, no matter their profession, deserves to be discriminated against in any way.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a nurse or a small business owner or nail tech. Whether you have a profession or not, you shouldn’t have to feel unwelcome, unwanted, uncomfortable and unsafe,” Sheen said. “You shouldn’t have to lose your family and friends because you are an Asian American Pacific Islander. I never want my fellow AAPI community to have to grieve and lose one of our brothers and sisters like this ever again.”
Next in the line of speakers was Honorary Consul of Japan Ed Klopfenstein.
“Discrimination is something being seen as rampant, nationally. And it obviously culminated in Georgia with the death of several people,” Klopfenstein said. “Thus, the local community is heightening in concern that what’s happening nationally may come through locally. And we don’t want that. We are Idahoans.”
Klopfenstein finished his speech by advocating for two action items from the public and event attendees.
“I am asking for you to do two things if you could tonight,” Klopfenstein said. “One, try hard to be vigilant and support the Idaho Asian community along with all minorities in Idaho. Second, and I say this as an Idahoan and as a private citizen, is that we please ask you to reach out to your house representative and oppose RS 228.”
RS 228 is a recently introduced bill that aims to eliminate any and all discussion of race and sex in the Idahoan educational curriculum. This would include the Civil War, World War II, the women’s suffrage movement and more, according to Rep. John McCrostie.
Following Klopfenstein, another speaker came to the microphone and announced that, in his chosen absence, a statement from Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee would be read aloud.
“While I may not be in physical attendance, I do want to make my voice heard and say the attack on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, both in Atlanta and throughout the country over the last year are reprehensible,” Lee wrote. “On a personal level, I want you to know I understand the fears and concerns of the community members have for themselves and their loved ones in light of the violence that has taken place.”
Lee is of Chinese ancestry and said he has recently spoken with his family about racially motivated hate and violence.
Anti-Asian American hate crimes have risen by 150% over the past year in the United States, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“While we have not seen any reported increase in crimes against our Asian American and Pacific Islander community members [in Boise], I have instructed Boise police officers to increase directed patrols around Asian American and Pacific Islander owned businesses and ethnic and cultural community locations,” Lee wrote.
Lee also added that he has asked patrol officers and neighborhood contact officers to reach out to community members to address any specific concerns they might have.
Rep. Sue Chew closed out the event with a land acknowledgment, specifically thanking the ancestors of the Shoshone people.
“I’d like to be able to take a moment to honor all of us because [we’ve] all been touched. Violence [reaches] all of us,” Chew said. “And I’d like to be able to honor the ancestors of this land and the ancestors that brought us here because it’s on their shoulders that we stand now.”
The vigil event comes days after local high school student Wency Suo organized a rally in support of the Atlanta victims and Boise’s AAPI community.