DALLAS – Members of several Texas groups representing people of color on Monday demanded that authorities quickly acknowledge whether they believe the neo-Nazi who killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall over a week ago was racially motivated in choosing his victims.
More than a week after the May 6 attack at the Allen Premium Outlets, authorities haven't released a motive for the attack, and a Texas Department of Public Safety official has said it appeared that 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia targeted the location rather than a specific group of people.
But Lily Trieu, interim executive director of Asian Texans for Justice, said at a news conference that many community members who contacted her felt that assessment was “outrageous.”
The victims — who include three members of a Korean American family and an engineer from India — represented a cross-section of the increasingly diverse Dallas suburbs.
“You can’t separate location from the people who live there, and what Allen is known for, as being diverse, as being an area where there is a large Asian American and South Asian American population,” said Stephanie Drenka, co-founder and executive director of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society.
She said that the Department of Public Safety official's statement "shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how systemic racism works and how it is embedded in every system and every place.”
“The targeted location does not exclude the possibility of a hate crime,” Drenka said. “Allen and its adjacent cities of Plano, Frisco and Carrollton are home to one of the largest Asian American populations outside of the coasts.”
Authorities have acknowledged the authenticity of a social media account on which the gunman, who had no criminal record, displayed a fascination with white supremacy while offering chilling hints of his research and planning. He described mass shootings as sport and posted photos showing his large Nazi tattoos.
Chanda Parbhoo, founder and executive director of SAAVETX Education Fund, which aims to strengthen the voter engagement of the South Asian American community, said that the shooting has left people in her community frightened. “Children are having nightmares. Parents are having a feeling of helplessness," she said.
“The emotional toll this has taken on our community cannot be overstated," Parbhoo said.
Any delay in making clear the gunman's motives leaves communities vulnerable, said Caroline Kim, a Korean American Dallas resident whose family owns a restaurant in the city's Koreatown.
Amid a sharp rise in recent years in anti-Asian violence in the U.S., three women were injured last May when a gunman opened fire in a hair salon in Dallas' Koreatown. While the Dallas police chief originally said police didn't have any indication that the shooting was racially motivated, he reversed course two days later, saying it was possibly a hate crime. The man arrested was later charged with a hate crime.
“It is crucial to classify such crimes as hate crimes as quickly as possible, as soon as possible, as strongly as possible," Kim said. “Doing so mobilizes communities, law enforcement and resources faster, media responds faster and differently. And most important of all, our communities feel heard.”
Amit Banerjee, a community activist who was among those speaking, said that as someone who was raised in the area who still lives here, he said he has constantly encountered racism. He said that when his grandparents visit the area from India, "they are looked at as other, and looked at as different and looked at as someone that shouldn't be there.”
Just last summer, in a widely circulated video, a woman unleashed a profanity-laced racist rant on his mother and her friends in a suburban Dallas parking lot, challenging their presence in the U.S., threatening to shoot them and physically assaulting his mother.
Other groups represented at the news conference Monday included one devoted to encouraging civic participation in the Latino community and another focused on addressing race and racism in Dallas to create a more inclusive city.
Many of those gathered at the news conference also urged elected officials to consider gun reforms. Last week though, a rare momentum in the Texas Capitol for a tougher gun law flickered out when Republicans stalled a bill that would have raised the purchase age for certain AR-style semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old.