The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Korean groups rally on the Mall to decry racism after deadly attacks in Atlanta

Members of Korean American organizations hold a memorial service at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday. (Will Newton for The Washington Post)
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Members of the area’s Korean community laid white chrysanthemums near the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday to honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting rampage, and picked up protest signs to rally on the Mall against racism.

“We should not be intimidated about speaking out,” said Paula Park, the president of the Korean American Community Association of Greater Washington. “By joining and speaking out together, we can stop tragedies like this from happening in the future.”

The white chrysanthemum is a symbol of mourning in Korean culture, and the rally — attended by the son of Suncha Kim, one of the victims — was in part a somber vigil after the shootings.

But there were flashes of anger and calls for solidarity, too.

The organizers of the rally said the region’s Korean community has rarely spoken up and is now seeking to become more visible in the face of the shootings and other attacks that have targeted the elderly.

Three similar rallies were held around the region Saturday, said Julian Min, a community leader in Maryland.

The Atlanta attacks this month, which left eight people dead, including six Asian women, came after one what study concluded was a sharp increase in hate crimes targeting Asians as President Donald Trump blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic.

The incidents have drawn fresh attention to the long history of anti-Asian racism in the United States and President Biden has denounced attacks on Asian Americans.

But Asian American leaders across the nation have been left grappling with what ought to be their path forward.

Anna E. Ko, a leader of the Korean American Society of Virginia, said many people she knows were reluctant to attend the rally.

“Asians are feeling very scared these days,” Ko said.

Amid national attention on bias crimes, Asian American leaders struggle over where to take their movement

A few dozen people, most of them older, gathered on the steps at the base of the memorial holding yellow signs with slogans in English and Korean. “I don’t deserve to be mistreated,” one said. Another read: “Protect our Korean elders.”

Speakers addressed the group and onlookers enjoying the spring morning on the Mall. Seyang Jeong described harassment she had faced in the five years she has lived in the United States. Hurtful words matter, she said, because “they lead to hate and violence.”

“Asians deserve your respect,” she said. “Please stop Asian hate.”

Maryland Del. Mark S. Chang (D-Anne Arundel) recalled being bullied as a child growing up in Glen Burnie after his parents came to the United States in the 1970s and facing hostility even after being elected to the General Assembly.

“My job is to be a leader and stand up and be a voice,” Chang said. “But you know what, for far too long I’ve been silent because I’m part of the stereotypical Asian tradition of just be quiet and do your work.”

Yumi Hogan, Maryland’s first lady and an immigrant from Korea, sent written remarks in support of the rally. In a recent television interview, her husband, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), described how she and her daughters have faced discrimination.

But Chang questioned the lack of support from local leaders: “To be honest with you, where are the other elected officials?”

After the group on the steps was led in chants of “Hate is a virus” and “Asian lives matter.”