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After a year’s reprieve, the event of another mass shooting shocked the nation on March 16 when suspect, John Aaron Long, walked into several spas in and near Atlanta and, allegedly, shot and killed six Asian American women at point blank range.
The Asian and Pacific-Islander community, in Westford, quickly reacted by arranging a March 21 rally that attracted a crowd of supporters along the major Littleton Road intersection, also known as Minot’s Corner.
Superintendent Bill Olsen released an open letter to the school community on March 19, saying, in part, “There continues to be a disturbing and unacceptable nationwide increase in racial bias and violence towards our Asian friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Please know that everyone in Westford Public Schools stands firmly with the Asian Community…”
The statement prompted School Committee member Mingquan Zheng to praise Olsen.
“I want to first thank Superintendent (Bill) Olsen for standing firmly behind Asian Americans given the increase in violence and attacks,” Zheng said, in part. “Last Friday’s statement is very helpful.”
According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, “Anti-Asian Hate crimes surged 145 percent, while overall hate crime dropped 6 percent in 2020.”
Zheng thanked the Westford Academy students and community leaders who attended the rally. He urged school administrators to pay attention to the social and emotional aspects of the students, including those who are Asian American and now learning how to cope with illogical aggression from unknown agitators.
“There was a very well attended rally yesterday,” Zheng said on March 22, “to raise awareness of this issue where there are a lot of Asian Americans and also Westford Academy students, community leaders and the members attending. I would like to extend an appreciation for our community.”
It’s not clear whether Long’s actions met the threshold of a hate crime. But the ethnicity of most of the victims — eight in all — was noticed by other Asian Americans.
“Stop Asian Hate,” was the message that appeared on almost every sign at the rally.
Long is said to have suffered over his addiction to sex. A CNN story, published on March 18, suggested that Long had gone to massage parlors “explicitly to engage in sex acts.”
Select Board Chair Andrea Peraner-Sweet on March 22, also expressed support to the Asian American community.
“We condemn hatred of any kind and the targeting of any individual based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Peraner-Sweet stated. “We remain committed to combating hatred and discrimination in any and all of its forms….and that it provides equitable treatment for all.”
After years of suffering random mass shootings at schools, workplaces, nightclubs and other venues, Americans had not experienced such horror since March 2020 when the pandemic caught fire.
But Peraner-Sweet made one thing clear for Westford: “Hate has no home in Westford,” she stated.