IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Olivia Munn says anti-Asian violence 'does not happen in a vacuum'

The actor says the rise in anti-Asian violence is due to the pandemic being "weaponized" against Asian Americans.
/ Source: TODAY

Actor and activist Olivia Munn believes the rise in anti-Asian violence across the country is a result of the coronavirus pandemic being "weaponized against Asian Americans."

Munn, 40, spoke on the 3rd hour of TODAY Thursday in the wake of a series of shootings at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday that killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

Nearly 3,800 hate incidents were reported against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide over the last year, and women were 2.3 times more likely to report an incident, according to a report released Tuesday by the group Stop AAPI Hate.

"I think the thing that we need everyone to know is that the pandemic was weaponized against Asian Americans," Munn said. "And we have a target on our back and for some reason right now, it feels like it's open season on us. And we need help, and we need people to care about what's happening to us."

Robert Aaron Long, 21, was charged with eight counts of murder on Wednesday for the shootings. Authorities said at a news conference on Wednesday that Long told investigators that he had a sexual addiction and viewed the spas as a temptation he needed to eliminate.

However, officials in the two jurisdictions where the shootings occurred stressed that it's still too early to determine if race was a motive in the killings.

"You look at what happened in Atlanta, this doesn't happen in a vacuum," Munn said. "And I have to say it's also incredibly infuriating to hear the Atlanta Sheriff's Department or the Cherokee Sheriff's Department say that they can't really say what this is yet, and it's so clear that Asian women were targeted. It's just so hard for people to call a hate crime a hate crime, especially when the assailant is a white man."

Capt. Jay Baker, spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, has also come under fire for comments at Wednesday's news conference by saying Tuesday was "a really bad day for him" in reference to Long. Screenshots also surfaced from a March 2020 Facebook post by Baker that promoted anti-Asian T-shirts that said, "Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA."

Baker has not responded to multiple requests for comment by NBC News, and the Facebook page appears to have been taken down.

Munn believes the stigma attached to Asian Americans because the coronavirus first spread in the Chinese city of Wuhan is behind much of the violence. Former President Donald Trump frequently referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus and the "Kung Flu."

"Scientists encouraged leaders to use the scientific names and not to associate any virus with a country or place, and this astronomical uptick in violence against Asians I believe is a direct cause of the refusal to do that," Munn said.

Munn also spoke about why Asian women in particular may have been targeted.

"Women, in general, we are the more vulnerable sex in this country so it's going to be easier for people to attack us, and usually the attackers are cowards so they are going to go after people that can't fight back," she said. "But also, there is a stigma that fetishizes Asian women in our country and it just makes us extremely vulnerable."

Munn has used social media to implore the public to speak out against rising anti-Asian violence. Last month, she put the spotlight on the issue, leading to an arrest after a violent attack in New York City on the parent of one of her friends.

On Wednesday, she was joined by a host of celebrities, athletes and advocates who spoke out against the violence using the hashtag #StopAsianHate.

"People who are posting on social media right now, it does help us," Munn said. "It does make us feel like we are being seen, especially because in the Asian community, we often feel like we are unseen and our pain is invisible.

"... And so the fact that people are saying, 'Hey, we see what's happening to you and it's not OK,’ it really does make a difference. And to have people denounce it so publicly, it's the most important thing I think right now to help spread that message that what's happening to us is not OK."