Rep. Judy Chu on the Lunar New Year tragedy

Rep. Judy Chu on the Lunar New Year tragedy

With help from Jesse Naranjo, Jesús Rodríguez, Rishika Dugyala and Teresa Wiltz

Rep. Judy Chu

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif. addresses the media with Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna in Monterey Park on Sunday. A mass shooting took place following a Lunar New Year celebration. | AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Hey there, Recast family. Attorney General Merrick Garland defends DOJ’s handling of both Biden and Trump classified document probes. Rep. Ruben Gallego officially launches his bid for Arizona’s Senate seat and the Republican National Committee holds a key leadership vote this week. First we focus on the pair of mass shootings targeting Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in California. 

Terror. Grief. Helplessness.

The California communities of Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay have been devastated by the events of the past 72 hours, where gunmen took the lives of at least 18 people in separate mass shootings.

While we still don’t know the identities of all those lives claimed, what is known is that the attacks appear to be targeted at Asian communities. The alleged assailants are also Asian men.

The first incident took place Saturday evening in Monterey Park, in a town that over the decades has become such a beacon to Asian Americans and Asian immigrants that it’s been dubbed America’s first suburban Chinatown.

The shooter, a 72-year-old man who later took his own life, gunned down patrons at a ballroom dance hall. The victims were part of a large celebration to mark the Lunar New Year.

A person kneels to light a candle at a makeshift memorial

A person kneels to light a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the scene of a deadly mass shooting at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who attended the celebration nearby but left shortly before shots rang out, said the atmosphere felt particularly festive because it was the first Lunar New Year celebration in three years because of Covid.

Chu, who served as the city’s mayor and on the city council before being elected to Congress in 2009, said in a statement over the weekend that Asian Americans there and across the country “are in mourning and are terrified instead of celebrating.”

When I spoke with her Monday evening about how her community was coping, word of another shooting some 415 miles north in Half Moon Bay on Monday hadn’t reached the national media. There, a man in his late 60s was apprehended alive after allegedly killing seven people thought to be Chinese farmworkers.

I talk with Rep. Chu about the Lunar New Year shooting, how these attacks are taking place amid a rise in anti-Asian hate incidents in this country, divisions within the Asian American community — and if it’s still a hate crime if the attackers were also Asian.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

THE RECAST: Obviously, when I first heard the news about the shooting in Monterey Park, being a Los Angeles-area native myself, my initial thought was: “I hope this was not another anti-Asian attack.”

CHU: That came to my mind too, that it was anti-Asian.

THE RECAST: Does this change how you put this incident into perspective, with law enforcement confirming the shooter was a man of Asian descent himself?

CHU: Not necessarily.

There are divisions within the Asian community. For instance, you saw that with the shooting last year at the Taiwanese church, where an Asian man had hatred against the Taiwanese. So those kinds of differences between people could result in a violent act that could be considered a hate crime.

So I did not write that off, even when I heard that the Monterey Park shooter was an Asian male. But as the facts come out, I’ve come to understand that this is something personal. I don’t know exactly what triggered him.

A woman holds a candle at a vigil

A woman holds a candle at a vigil honoring the victims of a shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park. | AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Nonetheless, I do know that he was a frequent user of both ballroom dance facilities, that he considered himself a pretty good ballroom dancer, that he met his wife through ballroom dance, but she says that he was critical and quick tempered when she misstepped a dance move.

The couple divorced in 2005. So there is something personal there, but what made him snap? That’s the question mark.

THE RECAST: It’s really hard to wrap your head around. How are you doing and how is the community faring, given that this happened at a celebratory and festive period to bring in the Lunar New Year?

CHU: Well, only hours earlier, one block away, we had a very joyous Lunar New Year festival grand opening. There were so many elected officials, including myself there along with thousands of people watching and walking around.

And I could feel the enthusiasm in the air because this was the first time in three years that this was done in-person, lifting the hiatus due to Covid.

So I know people were looking forward to this.

THE RECAST: Given all that we’ve seen in this country with the documented rise of anti-Asian hate in recent years, did the large gathering give anyone pause?

Or was this really about seeing loved ones, seeing friends and finally being able to share in this joyous occasion because folks were finally able to get back together in person?

CHU: Oh, yeah. I don’t think anybody at all had a thought that this could have been dangerous.

I do have to say, though, that we did have the Monterey Park Police there throughout to keep us safe — those that were in uniform and those in plain clothes, but they did have plenty of people there.

What terrified the community even more [in the immediate aftermath of the attack] was that the shooter was loose in the community. They didn’t know if they could — or should — go to their other Lunar New Year celebrations, or even whether they should send their kids to school, because they didn’t know if they would be the next victim of the shooter.

So it wasn’t until 5 p.m. at a local press conference, when our sheriff made the announcement that the shooter had been found and that he had killed himself. So at that point, people did breathe a sigh of relief.

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THE RECAST: Did this incident spark conversations within the Monterey Park community at all about the shooter’s identity?

I’m thinking back to the Atlanta-area spa shootings which appeared to be a clearer cut case about what happened: A white guy goes to three separate facilities, clearly targeting Asian women and it coming on the heels of the public and the media talking more openly and focusing on the rise of AAPI hate.

But the fact that the attack took place from within the community does it make it harder to place anger or make it more difficult to process?

CHU: Well, there’s a lot of speculation about why he did it, what his motive was. So stories are coming out about him and his behavior at the dance studios.

There is a lot of anger. I don’t think it’s that mysterious, because clearly, there was some kind of personal problem that this guy had. We just don’t know exactly what.

A view into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio

A view through a window into a the Star Ballroom Dance Studio where a deadly mass shooting took place on Jan. 23 in Monterey Park, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Another mystery is how he got all his weapons, because the Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna on Monday talked about what they found in his home: lots of ammunition and other weapons. So he was gathering this. Was he gathering this in order to do this big final action?

I actually also have other questions about whether he obtained these weapons, legally, or illegally, and what permitted a person like this, of this mentality, to be able to obtain these weapons and what does it mean for our laws.

THE RECAST: Right, because we’re learning too that some of the [firearm] magazines he was in possession of are illegal to possess in California, right?

I know you’ve talked some about gun safety laws, and Congress last year passed the first gun reform law in decades. It included some very narrow restrictions on gun ownership with the aim of keeping firearms out the hands of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Do you feel more gun safety provisions can be passed on the federal level?

CHU: Oh, we have so many proposals. But the major proposal is to have a truly universal background check. We know that the universal background check system has saved thousands of lives.

But there are loopholes. And people can get around them if they don’t want to be caught. So they can buy guns at gun shows or online or through a personal sale. And then they won’t be caught. And we have to close that loophole.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., speaks to remember the victims of Atlanta shootings

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., speaks to remember the victims of shootings at three massage businesses in Georgia at the Capitol in March 2022. | AP Photo/Alex Brandon

THE RECAST: The Biden administration has elevated the push to eradicate anti-AAPI violence, to stop AAPI hate as a core pillar of their administration. Do you feel the current White House has done enough to elevate this?

CHU: Oh, absolutely.

There is a world of difference between Trump and Biden – we saw it immediately. Trump actually fanned the flames of xenophobia and hatred with his usage of his terms “China virus” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung Flu.”

When Biden took office, one of the first things he did was to issue a memorandum condemning anti Asian hate. But then we embarked on our bill, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and it was such a proud moment when I got to be in the White House to watch him sign this bill into law.

He has engaged with us on all the issues that we brought up that we think feed into this anti- Asian hate. I do have to say that I also talked to President Biden [Monday] morning about this mass killing, and he has been monitoring it, watching it, he wanted to make sure that I conveyed his condolences to the community and he wants to be in touch with the victims.

THE RECAST: What do you want us to know about your community as it begins to heal from this tragedy?

CHU: Well, I think that our community is resilient. I’ve lived here for 37 years, and I was a mayor and city council member here and I know that this community will get through this and we will get through this together.

ICYMI @ POLITICO

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