By Ava-joye Burnett

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — After the deadly mass shooting in Atlanta where six of the eight people killed were women of Asian descent, vigils were organized across the country, including in Maryland.

Emboldened and empowered. Those are some of the words people kept sharing with WJZ on Sunday. But it is complicated, because they also feel afraid, especially after a series of burglaries at Asian-owned restaurants.

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“In the morning, I saw the news and I felt like this is so senseless and feel sad,” said Jean Xu, founding president of Chinese American Parent Association.

Police in Georgia are still investigating whether that attack can be classified as a hate crime. But even before that rampage, a recent study from California State University said violence against Asian Americans shot up by nearly 150%.

Last month in Howard County, four of six restaurants that were burglarized around the Lunar New Year were Asian-owned.

Police said they do not know if race was a factor but the community that’s been rattled by crime is now rallying together.

“I mean my heart was broken that we could have such evil things happening here in Howard County and that the perpetrators are still at large and as we hear tonight the businesses are still being harassed over the phone,” said Sen. Katie Fry Hefter, District 9.

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“These things are going on in our country and locally as well and that accumulates to a point that we feel that we have to speak up,” Xu said.

Maryland lawmakers have passed hate crime laws, but other measures may be considered in the future.

“With the events that have happened in Georgia, I’m sure that the legislature is going to be taking a look at the situation very seriously like we have in the past and look for ways to strengthen our hate crime laws in the state of Maryland,” said Del. Mark Chang, Anne Arundel County, District 32.

In Howard County, where nearly one in five residents is of Asian descent, it’s been a safe haven for so many families.

But in the year of a pandemic where racist rhetoric has turned into violence, some people no longer feel as safe.

“I used to jog after dinner but I’ll never do that anymore because I think it’s not safe for me or for my family,” said Jodie Wang, Howard County resident.

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Police across Maryland said they’ve increased patrols near Asian-owned businesses, but they are also calling on everyone to keep watch too and call them if something is off.

Ava-joye Burnett