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Keys, Wallet, Pepper Spray: The New Reality for Asian-Americans

At Esco, a pharmacy in Hell’s Kitchen, pepper spray sales increased eightfold in the month after the Atlanta spa shootings, in which a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were Asian or Asian-American women. Danny Dang, the owner of Esco, said that 90 percent of the customers buying the spray were Asian-American.

For Arthur Bramhandtam, a 36-year-old journalist, pepper spray is just one more thing on his check list when he leaves the apartment. “You have to bring your keys with you, you have to bring your wallet, you have to bring your iPhone — I have to bring my pepper spray now, it’s habitual,” he said.

Both Mr. Bramhandtam and Ms. Chen called the pepper spray a last resort, sharing concerns about using it effectively and escalating an already dangerous situation. To this end, they have adopted other precautions to minimize the possibility of having to use it.

Ms. Chen has taken to zipping around on a bicycle so she can get away from assailants quickly. Mr. Bramhandtam and his husband have discussed distraction techniques, especially in enclosed spaces, like subway cars.

And even though Hyesu Lee, a 42-year-old illustrator who lives in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, recently started carrying pepper spray, she said she was planning to sign up for Brazilian jujitsu classes. She feels more vulnerable because English is her second language and fears her accent might mark her as a target.

Two nonprofits, the Asian American Federation and the Center for Anti-Violence Education, have teamed up to provide self-defense training. Stressing the need for more grass roots community programs, the federation’s deputy director, Joo Han, added that she has also noticed more Asian-Americans buying guns. “When people feel like they don’t have alternatives, they feel like they have to defend themselves using extreme measures,” Ms. Han said. “The fear that advocates have, is that something is going to go wrong, and it’s going to end in greater violence.”

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