North Texas Asian community advocates renew calls to label Allen shooting a hate crime

On the one-year anniversary of the shooting that killed eight people and injured seven others, a coalition of advocacy organizations released a joint statement calling on state leaders to label the shooting as a hate crime.

By Pablo Arauz Peña, KERA NewsMay 6, 2024 9:46 am, ,

From KERA News:

One year after the tragic shooting in Allen, advocates for the Asian American community are still calling on Texas authorities to address rising gun violence and label the shooting a hate crime.

At least half of the eight people killed in the shooting at Allen Premium Outlets were Asian, including 26-year old Aishwarya Thatikonda, who had immigrated from India, and the Korean American Cho family, whose six-year old son, William, was the only surviving member.

The shooter, Mauricio Garcia, had previously shown signs of an extremist ideology through social media posts and neo-Nazi tattoos.

On Monday, eight advocacy organizations released a joint statement addressing the one-year anniversary of the shooting.

“Despite authorities finding that the gunman held Neo-Nazi ideology and targeted a location with a large AAPI population, Texas government leadership has failed to acknowledge the role of racism and refused to pass legislation preventing further gun violence,” the statement reads.

The groups — including Asian Texans for Justice and the Dallas Asian American Historical Society — are calling on Texas leaders to label the shooting a hate crime, further invest in community violence prevention and reintroduce legislation in the next session to raise the legal age of purchasing a semi-automatic weapon to 21 after attempts last year failed.

The altar at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas was decorated with flowers, candles and photos of the victims who died in the Allen shooting.
Pablo Arauz Peña / KERA News

Christina Hahn with Asian Texans for Justice helped organize a memorial service just days after the shooting. She said it impacted her personally because of her close ties to the victims.

“It is quite simply the fact that these were people that we knew,” Hahn said. “This was not a random person. I could trace my connection to these people by two or three degrees.”

Since the shooting, there have been continued efforts to have it investigated as a hate crime. Last fall, the South Asian American Voter Empowerment of Texas Education Fund (SAAVETXF) held a forum on hate crimes. Chanda Pabhoo, the organization’s executive director, said those conversations are ongoing.

“We are meeting with law enforcement, and really trying to understand what the process looks like, because that’s some of the things that our community wants to know,” Pabhoo said.

SAAVETXF co-hosted a remembrance event in Allen on Sunday with Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group.

Community members bring flowers to the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s shooting Monday, May 8, 2023, at Allen Premium Outlets in Allen.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

Stephanie Drenka, executive director for the Dallas Asian American Historical Society, said the Allen shooting came on the heels of rising anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also followed similar shootings, including one in 2022 in Dallas’ Koreatownand the 2021 shooting at a spa in Atlanta, which was ultimately investigated as a hate crime.

“It has been just this compounding wave of violence, attacks against our community that we don’t really get a chance to recover from before there’s a headline or news about something else happening,” Drenka told KERA.

In the days following the shooting in Allen, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced it was taking over the investigation. At the time, DPS Regional Director Hank Sibley told reporters he didn’t believe the shooter was motivated by hate.

“To me, it looks like he targeted the location rather than a specific group of people,” Sibley said at a news conference.

Drenka said she’s still disturbed by Sibley’s statement.

“That location was likely targeted because of the demographics,” Drenka said. “So the shooting indiscriminately of the victims was a byproduct of the shooter picking that location knowing that he was likely going to hurt and kill people of color.”

About 20% of residents in Allen are Asian American, according to a 2022 census estimate, compared to 5.7% of Texas as a whole.

Texas DPS did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the ongoing investigation or any new information. The department also did not respond to KERA’s previous request for comment on Garcia’s signs of extremist ideology in applications for a security guard license.

Drenka said the Allen shooting and subsequent response from law enforcement also exposed the challenges that Asian American communities face in North Texas. She said she’s still frustrated with the lack of support.

“I think what the shooting did was bring community organizations closer together and give us opportunities to collaborate throughout the year, which has been really uplifting,” Drenka said, “but it’s still frustrating that in terms of city leadership, there’s been little outreach or intention to prevent something like this from happening again.”

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