The Times: Essential news from the L.A. Times

A massacre in Monterey Park

Episode Summary

A gunman shot and killed 10 people during a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California. How the massacre is sparking concerns about public safety and conversations about anti-Asian hate — and renewing calls for gun control.

Episode Notes

A gunman shot and killed 10 people just after a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California. This attack, one of California's worst mass shootings in recent memory, is sparking concerns about public safety and conversations about anti-Asian hate — and renewing calls for gun control. Read the full transcript here. 

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times Asian American communities reporter Jeong Park 

More reading: 

Authorities identify 72-year-old man as suspected gunman in Lunar New Year mass shooting

Terror at Monterey Park dance studio: What we know about Lunar New Year mass shooting 

Lunar New Year shooting: A grim moment in Monterey Park, America’s first suburban Chinatown

Episode Transcription

Note to readers: This interview was taped before authorities announced Monday that the death toll in the Monterey Park shooting has risen to 11.

Gustavo Arellano: Another mass shooting.

Dispatch call: Additional units requested. Multiple victims. Gunshot wounds.

Gustavo: Police say a man fatally shot 10 people and injured at least 10 others at a ballroom dance hall during a Lunar New Year celebration.

Kamala Harris: A time of a cultural celebration. And yet another community has been torn apart by senseless gun violence.

Gustavo: Hours later, the shooter killed himself just before law enforcement closed in on him. The motive behind this massacre is still being investigated, but the tragedy is already raising fears of anti-Asian hate.

Police press conference: Our job is to collect every shred of this awful puzzle that has been laid out by this suspect.

News clip: Then it leads to the question of is it a race-motivated, like an Asian hate thing or not? Which it appears the suspect is Asian. So people are going, you know, triggering on that. 

Gustavo: And in a time when incidents of violence against Asian Americans are on the rise...

The massacre has spread fear throughout the community, and questions about why it happened.

Associated Press clips: We don't know if this is specifically a hate crime defined by law, but who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?

Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to “The Times: Essential News from the L.A. Times.” It's Monday, Jan. 23rd, 2023.

Today...  how one of California's worst mass shootings in recent memory is sparking concerns and conversations about anti-Asian hate… and renewing calls for gun control.

Gustavo: Jeong Park covers Asian American communities for the Los Angeles Times. Jeong, welcome to “The Times.”

Jeong Park: Thank you so much.

Gustavo: So there's still a lot we don't know about the massacre in Monterey Park, but what do we know about Saturday's shooting so far?

Jeong: So much of it, as you said, is not clear at the moment. I wanted to set the background a little bit before I go into the shooting. This was happening Saturday night. I was actually there Saturday afternoon at the Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park. It is one of the biggest Lunar New Year celebrations in Southern California and in the country. 

Jeong: But this was the first Lunar New Year celebration that the city has had since 2020. So this was the first one in three years. And there was so many people. There were tens of thousands that have gathered to enjoy tiny skewers. That's a big thing. Boba, that's another big thing. As well as buy jewelry. There were a lot of Chinese language classes. They were recruiting students there. So this was a very festive environment, for businesses, many of whom have been struggling through the pandemic. The shooting happened around 10:22 p.m. on Saturday night, at this dance ballroom. The Star Dance.

Jeong: And this shooting killed 10 people, wounded 10 others. We do not know their conditions at the moment. They’re ranging from stable to critical. And we are still trying to figure out what happened, and what the motive is at the moment. But the description that authorities have given is that the gunman is an Asian male. And that the gunman had shot himself, in a white van in Torrance, after engaging in some kind of a law enforcement issues Sunday morning. And there was also another report of the gunman, just a couple miles north in Alhambra, at another dance ballroom that's attended by a lot of Chinese American elders. 

Jeong: So we are still trying to figure out what the relationship is between all of those events, and figure out the motive. 

Gustavo: Yeah, that's one of the things always comes up first when tragedies like this happen. Why? What do we know about the motive so far?

Jeong: Right. There is no specific motive that the authorities have identified. There was some talks that it might be more personal, something to do with the dance class or dance ballroom that it happened at, but we are still trying to figure out.

Police press conference: We're looking at every angle. Whether it's domestic violence. The question was asked earlier about a hate crime. You have to leave the door open for any possibility. Until we understand who this suspect is, what his motives are, where he came from, what his intention was.

Jeong: But this happened in one of the biggest Asian American and Chinese American communities in the United States.

Jeong: And the fact that this happened on the eve of Lunar New Year, which is the most important holiday for the AAPI community, I think that has lot of us, including myself, alarmed.

David Zhang: I just can't believe it. Um, I feel like I don't even know the city anymore, because I've been here for seven years, almost.

Jeong: The first reaction that I had thought about, and I had heard from several folks say, that this could have been an anti-Asian hate and this was something that was targeted at Asian Americans.

David: You know, I pay a visit to all the stores over here, all the restaurants. And that place is the Chinese herb store. I used to go there all the time. I just can't believe it. I'm really scared, yeah.

Jeong: I covered a similar shooting in Laguna Woods, in May,  where there was a lot of speculation about a shooting of church elders who are Taiwanese Americans. So far, authorities have said that they are still looking into it, that they do not know if it's motivated by hate. So we will see.

Jeong: But I think there is a lot of concerns. I was out there, you know, right after that it happened. Um, so there were still a lot of questions to be answered and, you know, I've talked with several folks who were just concerned about, you know, their relatives and their friends. I talked to one person who had come from all the way from Woodland Hills to check in on his family and friends in Monterey Park. He said there's about a dozen who live in the area.

And that's the case for a lot of the folks that, you know, you may not live in Monterey Park, but you know somebody in Monterey Park or you know a business in Monterey Park. And I think there's a lot of concern that people have because of that, because of what Monterey Park means to the community.

News clip: Monterey Park was like, like a big pillar of our community as Chinese immigrants. So reading about it this morning was really hard.

Gustavo: Jeong, explain a little bit more about Monterey Park, like why does it have this significance in the Asian American community in the United States?

Jeong Park: It’s the place that lot of Chinese, Taiwan and people from Hong Kong come to start the American life here. This originates back to the mid-’70s where a developer started marketing Monterey Park as “Chinese Beverly Hills.” It was seen as a place that people from Chinatown in L.A. could go to get a house there, to have a little bit more space, because Chinatown by then was getting really crowded. So since then, uh, Monterey Park became this hub, this symbol for the Chinese American community here in the United States, in L.A. Now it's 65% Asian American, and four out of the five members of the City Council are Asian American. And from the mall, Atlantic Times Square, which has a lot of hip boba shops, um, to the Garvey Boulevard, the downtown Monterey Park, where there's tons of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants that you go. I mean, I go there to see my friend at least once a week to get a boba. Half & Half is my favorite. So even though a lot of people moved out of Monterey Park — they go to Hacienda Heights, Alhambra, San Marino, those wealthier neighborhoods — they all come back to Monterey Park. And this is especially the case for first-generation immigrants. The elders who grew up in Monterey Park, they still see that as their second home. So in all that, I think that just really speaks to the importance and significance of Monterey Park, as a place for Asian American community.

Gustavo Arellano: How are lawmakers so far responding to the tragedy?

Jeong: Rep. Judy Chu of Monterey Park, she was the first Chinese American female in Congress. She started her political career in Monterey Park as a councilwoman.

Jeong Park: And Rep. Chu added that, you know, regardless of the motive that, you can barely keep count of these mass shootings and something has to be done. 

Chu: This tore a hole through all of our hearts.

Jeong: Bass has also expressed similar concerns. Of note, L.A. actually borders Monterey Park on the east side. Mayor Karen Bass said the reports coming out of Monterey Park are absolutely devastating. Families deserve to celebrate the holidays in peace. Mass shootings and gun violence are a plague on our communities. And the statement was just released from President Joe Biden, saying, “Jill and I are thinking of those killed and injured in last night's deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park. While there is still much we don't know about the motive, we know that families are grieving tonight.” So those are kind of the statements that we are hearing from officials right now.

Gustavo: More after the break.

Gustavo Arellano: Jeong, you mentioned that when you first heard about the massacre, your first assumption was that it was a hate crime against Asians because what happened in Monterey Park is happening at a time where anti-Asian hate crimes have been skyrocketing in recent years. What’s the latest numbers?

Jeong: Yeah. Um, here in California, hate crimes against Asian Americans, we've seen a huge increase over the last few years. We have seen another year of triple-digit percentage increase in 2021 with crime increasing 177.5% from 2020 to 2021. And two years ago, about 8% of race-based hate crimes involved Asian Americans. In 2021, that number was to 21%. And last year I wrote a story about a poll from the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A. that showed that two-thirds of Asian Americans in L.A. County are worried about being a victim of a racial attack. And that 80% said racism has been a serious problem during the pandemic. So, it is something that is concerning to a lot of Asian Americans right now in L.A.

Gustavo: Yeah, you just hear about it, immediately you fear for the worst. And whatever the motives, what happened in Monterey Park, it's one of California's worst mass shootings in recent memory. How does it compare to other mass shootings that have happened across the state?

Jeong: You know, this comes five days after six people, including a 10-month-old baby and his 16-year-old mother and grandmother were killed in Goshen, in Tulare County. There was, obviously, the Borderline shooting in Thousand Oaks that a lot of people will remember where 12 were killed, um, in 2018. There was also a event in Covina in 2008 in Christmas Eve, where a man dressed as Santa Claus had entered a home and killed nine people, including the gunman's former wife and her parents. So this, unfortunately, is not unprecedented. I mean this has a lot of history and there are, unfortunately, other examples, that are happening in the state, that are of this magnitude.

Gustavo: Yeah, it's a, it's just terrible. Whenever mass shootings happen, you know, people start asking for more gun control. Other people say that seizing guns is not the way to stop these massacres. But recent polls do show that most Americans say they want stricter gun laws. California already has some of the most restrictive in the country, but the people that you were interviewing in the wake of the Monterey Park massacre, what were they saying about gun control?

Jeong: I did talk to the restaurant owner across the street from where this happened, and he said, you know, that three people had run into the store telling him to lock the door. And there's a guy with a semiautomatic weapon who was out there. And the restaurant owner had told me that, you know, it seemed crazy to him. He's a Korean American, just like me, that there could have been a machine gun, and a guy with a machine gun roaming the street. Um, having said that, I haven't heard a lot about specific gun policy or gun law,  or how things should change. I know that folks have been bringing it up on social media. I did see that the L.A.  Rams had tweeted something about texting and supporting every town for gun safety, and texting to support more gun control. But I think, you know, it's something that we'll see in the ensuing debate, that happens after every mass shooting. Um, you know, it feels the same, right? 

I covered a similar mass shooting last year in Laguna Woods, and the same thing happened and not much changed, and I'm afraid that that's going to be the case this time as well.

Jeong: I think that's the frustrating part of it, all of this. It's that as I am covering it, I am anticipating the next, and I think that's the, the most depressing part of it all. You know, it just shows you how American this whole problem is, really.

Gustavo: More after the break.

 Gustavo Arellano: Jeong, reports of anti-Asian hate crimes began to tick up in early 2020. You mentioned this earlier, especially as COVID-19 spread and the Trump administration blamed China for the pandemic, but Trump's out of the White House, the pandemic’s waning. Why do you think we have yet to see a drop in anti-Asian hate crime — and not even a drop, but in that time we’ve seen a dramatic increase? 

Jeong: It's so tricky and I think there is no one, or even two, answer to this. I will say the one factor that could be positive is that there is a lot more heightened awareness within the Asian American community to talk about the discrimination and bigotry that they face. And to report to organizations like StopAAPIHate. And that's why some authorities say it's not necessarily a bad thing to see an increase in that number. Having said that, you know, there are also plenty of negative reasons. We still see a lot of anti-Asian rhetoric, on social media and elsewhere. And there's still, I think, a lot of pent-up frustration that people have about anti-Asian sentiment. And there's obviously the looming factor of China and the influence that China is having, and some of the media coverage that kind of struck that anti-Chinese sentiment as well. All of those I think are contributing to, what we see as, this increase in anti-Asian hate.

Gustavo: Finally, Jeong, you know, in the wake of the Atlanta day spa massacre, where in 2021, where he had six Asian women killed. That really impacted the Asian American community in terms of activism to fight anti-Asian hate, but also in terms of gun laws. What do you think is going to happen next for the Asian American community in the wake of Monterey Park?

Jeong: I think it's something to be seen.

Jeong: It's something that we don't have an answer to at the moment. I just got off the phone with the mayor and council member of Monterey Park, who said that they were still trying to figure it out.

Jeong: But obviously I think there will be a lot of discussion about public safety, in context of anti-Asian hate and outside of that, um, [the San Gabriel Valley] has been having a lot of conversation in the last few years about police force, public safety and what is the right way to provide public safety to the community. Especially in a community that has a lot of population of Asian American and minority population.

Jeong: So we will see, um, time will tell.

Gustavo: Jeong, thank you so much for this conversation.

Jeong: Thank you so much.

Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of “The Times: Essential News from the L.A. Times.” Kinsee Morlan and David Toledo were the jefas on this episode. It was edited by Heba Elorbany and Mario Diaz mixed and mastered it.

Our show's produced by Denise Guerra, Kassia Broussalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Roberto Reyes and Nicholas Perez. Our fellow is Helen Li. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany.

And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back Wednesday with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.