HOUSTON - Local law enforcement is now increasing patrols and security around Asian community areas in Houston. This comes a day after eight people, most of whom were Asian, were murdered in Atlanta.
Investigators are working to determine if the shooting was racially motivated.
Houston Police and the Harris County Sheriff's Office say they have not seen a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans in Houston. However, out of an abundance of precaution, per Mayor Sylvester Turner's request, the departments are increasing patrols around neighborhoods like Chinatown.
Alice Lee is the Executive Director of the Southwest Management District, which oversees Chinatown. Lee said more than a dozen surveillance cameras are already installed in hot spots prone to "crimes of convenience" like robberies.
"I believe right now, we’re just hyped up on the fear and the unknown," said Lee.
Lee said the Southwest Management District also hired additional private security officers with K9 units to keep the businesses and customers safe.
Recent analysis say there's been a nearly 150% spike nationwide in hate crimes against Asians in 2020. The Atlanta murders have triggered the AAPI community, causing unrest and tension.
"It still worries me a little bit because you know, being Asian, we’re being targeted, especially if you look Chinese," said Saptoyo Soemampauwu.
"I've been following the increase in hate crimes against the Asian community, but I didn't think it would escalate to eight people being gunned down. Honestly, it was just very shocking and I’m still sort of processing kind of what happened," said Kevin Chen.
AAPI leaders are now working with local law enforcement to organize a virtual town hall meeting next week to discuss how to better protect the community from xenophobia.
"Educating the public about how they can stay vigilant, stay aware of their surroundings because you cannot have enough protection 24 hours, 7 days a week. It has to be incumbent upon us to be safe," said Lee.
Several local leaders spoke out denouncing hate against the AAPI community and asked Houstonians to stand in solidarity against anti-Asian hate.
In a statement, Mayor Sylvester Turner said,
"At my request, the Houston Police Department is increasing patrols beginning today near homes and businesses in Houston's Asian community. We are taking these steps following the violence in Atlanta and acts of hate against Asian-Americans nationwide.
HPD assures me that there are no credible threats in Houston, nor has our city experienced an increase in hate crimes reported against Asian-Americans. However, I understand that many of our neighbors are concerned and fearful for their safety.
Houston’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is beloved throughout the city. They operate successful businesses, support local initiatives, and assist with resources following every disaster – from donations of food and masks during the pandemic to financial contributions to aid recovery after Harvey and other natural disasters.
The shooting that claimed the lives of the AAPI women in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy. The spike in hate crimes across the country against the AAPI community is alarming and must end. As mayor and as a Houstonian, I want you to know that I stand with you in grief and solidarity.
It is not enough to condemn these acts of violence against Asian-Americans and hold the victims' families in our hearts. We must act to protect them. I am calling on all Houstonians to recognize our AAPI brothers and sisters' pain and fear and do what you can to ease those feelings. Please do your part to make them feel safe, whether it's by reporting a hate crime or calling out anti-Asian sentiment when you see it.
The attacks on the Asian American community are an outrage, and it's on all of us to stop it."
On Twitter, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said:
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said on Twitter,
"It saddens me to hear about the horrific events in Atlanta yesterday. We must stand unified against the rise of discrimination and violence towards the Asian community. #StopAAPIHate"
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said, "The vicious murder of Asian women in Atlanta is beyond disturbing. Especially against a backdrop of increased violence towards Asian Americans. To the hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans in Harris County: We stand with you as neighbors, and will not tolerate bigotry."
On Thursday, Asian American leaders and activists will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about the uptick in violence and discrimination against AAPI communities.