(Reuters) - American ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani, the first duo of Asian descent to win Olympic medals in the sport, said last week's shootings near Atlanta had made the wider public more aware of reports of a growing number of attacks faced by Asian Americans.
Eight people, six of whom were Asian women, were killed in the March 16 rampage and a 21-year-old white man has been charged with the homicides. Police are still investigating the motive.
Over the last year, there has been an increase in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, which Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community leaders say is due to Asian Americans being blamed for the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
"There has been awareness and concern from within the AAPI community, but it has felt like the collective call for allyship and help wasn't widely acknowledged until the tragedy on the 16th," Alex Shibutani told Reuters.
"With the pandemic, it is already prudent to be careful, but the unpredictability of these attacks is yet another thing for the AAPI community to be scared of," said Maia, Alex's sister and ice dancing partner.
The Shibutanis, nicknamed the 'Shib Sibs,' took home two bronze medals at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, raising their profile and helping them forge stronger ties with the greater AAPI community.
"We feel and embrace the responsibility that comes with our platform and believe in supporting all marginalized communities," Alex said.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta and in other major U.S. cities over the weekend in support of the Asian-American community.
The incidence of hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 149% in 2020 in 16 major cities compared with 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
The Shibutanis urged financial support for organizations like the AAPI Community Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Gold House, as well as the families directly impacted by the shootings.
Additionally, the pair is encouraging people to sign up for bystander intervention training.
"Our hope for the next generation of young people in this country is that, coming out of the pandemic, we lead with compassion and understanding," Alex said.
"Social change is important and necessary. Between the Black Lives Matter movement and now #StopAsianHate, we hope for support amongst all communities."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)