On Tuesday, a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, when he embarked on a shooting spree across three massage spas. Six of the eight people who were killed in the deadly attacks were Asian women.
The gunman shot five people at Young Asian Massage parlour in Cherokee County about 50km north of Atlanta. Two of these people died at the scene, while three were taken to hospital, where two of them also died.
He then travelled to the city of Atlanta, shooting, and killing three women at Gold Spa, and another woman at Aromatherapy Spa, located across the street.
The gunman was found by police about two and half hours later in Crisp County about 240 kilometres south of Atlanta. He told authorities he was heading to Florida, and had intended to carry out more attacks there.
On Wednesday, authorities charged the man, identified as Robert Aaron Long, aged 21, with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the shootings.
The brutal mass murder comes after the US has recorded a spike in racism and hate crimes directed towards Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, Asian hate crimes more than doubled across the US in 2020.
Cherokee County sheriff Captain Jay Baker told reporters at a press conference that he could not say if the killings appeared to be racially motivated, and that the gunman had told police he had a “sex addiction” and wanted to “eliminate” a “temptation”.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Captain Baker said.
Captain Baker said the gunman was “fed up” and “at the end of his rope”, and that it “was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
This rhetoric from Captain Baker, that characterises a white man who killed eight people, including six Asian women, as someone who was having a “really bad day”, is dangerous and deadly. It also purports the idea that the women who were killed had somehow “tempted” the man, simply by existing.
As Meena Harris wrote on Twitter, the sympathy we give to white men when they commit extreme acts of violence, literally costs lives.
Committing mass murder is not “having a bad day.” The sympathy we give to violent white men literally costs lives.— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) March 17, 2021
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said following the mass murder.
“We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful, and it has to stop.”
According to CNN, two of the women who were killed in the attack, lived in the same massage spa where they worked.
“This one fact alone highlights the vulnerability, the invisibility, and the isolation of working-class Asian women in our country,” said Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen on Thursday.
“When they go missing, or when they die, the loss of their lives will not incite the same kind of rage. And they won’t even be treated with the same humanity.
“And in this case, they’ve been characterized as a problem that needed to be eliminated.”
every time I see the clip again of the law official saying the shooter “had a bad day” my blood pressure spikes again because I remember how Asian women are not really allowed to be angry at work and several women were deemed “too emotional” for the US presidency— Karen K. Ho (@karenkho) March 17, 2021
The words spoken by Captain Jay Baker at the press conference have sparked outrage, as Asian Americans across the US continue to live in fear as race-based attacks against them intensify.
A now-deleted Facebook post made by Baker in April 2020 has been circulating on social media, that depicts a photo of a t-shirt he appeared to have bought that called the coronavirus an “imported virus from CHY-NA”. In the post, he urged his friends to “place your order while they last”.
Former US President Donald Trump is well known to have frequently referred to the coronavirus as the “China Virus”.
In a statement, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said he regretted “any heartache” Baker’s words at the press conference “may have caused”. Reynolds said Baker had not intended to “disrespect the victims” and that he had personally known Baker for many years.
“His personal ties to the Asian community and his unwavering support and commitment to the citizens of Cherokee County are well known to many,” the statement said.
Some Asian American activists have said the Facebook post, coupled with the words at the press conference, have left them without confidence in the police investigation process into the mass murder. Some are urging the FBI to carry out its own investigation.
“To see this post is both disturbing and outrageous. It speaks to the structural racism that we’re all up against,” Vincent Pan, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, told USA Today.
“Coupled with the comments coming out of the news conference, it does not give community members confidence that our experiences and the pain and the suffering that we’re feeling are being taken seriously, at least by this particular person.”