On Mar. 16, 2021, eight people were killed in a string of attacks in three Atlanta spas: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng. What these three attacks have in common is that the violence was directed towards Asian American women in what appears to be a racially-motivated and sexually-motivated crime.
Although the police have not released a sufficient motivation, the killer participated in hateful interactions online with racist posts and plans to attack women. Robert Aaron Long, 21, has admitted to carrying out the Tuesday shooting spree, saying that he wanted to “eliminate” the “temptation” that drove his supposed sex addiction, meaning he wished to kill the women he was attracted to. In the police report, it states that the main suspect for the mass killing of six Asian women and injury of a bystander, Robert Aaron Long, said that the murders “were not racially motivated” and that “he blames the massage parlors for providing an outlet for his addiction to sex.” Long is in the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center and is charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He is being held without bond.
The killer seemed to have been influenced by racist posts online about Covid-19 and his porn addiction, an industry which perpetuates racist stereotypes, and acted out on his conscious hate towards Asian women in his area. The racial motivation is very evident not only in the way the crime took place, as the killings were directed towards Asian women, but also through how his online activity shows his racism towards Asian Americans because of Covid-19 and how he views Asian women as not human but ‘temptations.’
This recent news is horrifying and scary to many Asians in the country regarding the safety in everyday life and their mental health. Many people online have caused a wave of attention to be put on preventing crimes of this nature and stopping Asian American hate. Phrases like “Racism is a Virus” and “Stop the Asian Hate” have been shared online as a way for people to show their allyship with the families of victims, the victims themselves and Asian Americans who feel afraid and saddened by this crime.
This case has been highlighted on social media because of the police not calling the murder a hate crime or acknowledging that there was racially-motivated violence. The problematic way the police have handled this case has caused an uproar, especially because of how the alleged murderer has been infantilized in the Atlanta Sheriff’s public statements and that there has yet to be any recognition of how racism could have motivated the suspect. Long’s quote also puts blame onto the Asian American women in the massage parlor for ‘enabling his addiction,’ when in reality if someone suffers from alcoholism they cannot commit crimes against alcohol manufacturers or bar owners. This narrative from Long is blaming the victims and displacing anger onto Asian American women again despite his addiction being something only he can control.
In a statement to Atlanta news, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker blamed the suspect’s crime on a “bad day.” This comment has been the subject of most of the public outcry, as it improperly represents the severity of the murder and is insensitive towards the families of the victims grieving. The tone used in the statement suggests that having a bad day is an excuse to murder other people. American police have a history of perpetuating systemic racism, through actions such over-policing minority neighborhoods, disproportionally arresting minorities, killing minorities who are unarmed while not harming white citizens who are armed and dangerous and giving lighter sentences to white criminals than the minorities who commit the same crimes. This history of systemic racism in the police and judicial system shows why Capt. Baker in his statement suggests that white criminals are excused for the murder of minorities because of ‘bad days,’ as these systems were built to protect upon racist ideals.
In a CNN article, it is written that a law enforcement source reported that “the suspect was recently kicked out of the house by his family due to his sexual addiction.” His online activity showed hate towards Asians, as he blamed Asians for the Covid-19 pandemic and promoted racist slogans such as “Imported from Chy-na,” which copied the mannerisms of former President Trump. This idea of blaming the pandemic on Asian people, which has been perpetuated by former President Trump’s comments calling Covid-19 the “China Virus” and the “Kung Flu,” are rooted in xenophobia by putting the blame of the virus onto a foreign country when the U.S. has had similar outbreaks of diseases in the past. These excuses are mainly used to avert any responsibility of the U.S. for any poor handling of the virus in the past year to let officials not take control on the situation and promotes the unjust, xenophobic blaming of minorities who have no control over the pandemic.
Over the past year since the president’s remarks, racist and xenophobic violence against Asian Americans has risen. The NYPD reported that hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment jumped 1,900% in New York City alone in 2020. This giant spike in violence in New York alone shows how hate has been centered towards Asian Americans, primarily because of the racism surrounding Covid-19.
In American politics and warfare, racist stereotypes are made to demonize minorities in other countries and create conflict within the U.S. to perpetuate white supremacy, such as the stereotype that Asian women are sexually submissive. This comes from the United States’ abuse of Asian countries and women in World War II and later on in the Korean and Vietnam War. GI’s were known to have sex workers in U.S. military bases throughout Asia. With this, American stereotypes were perpetuated through military propaganda, movies, newspapers and media that all Asian women were always consenting to sex because of their stereotyped submissive sexual nature. This false stereotype was continually used in the Vietnam and Korean War, as the U.S. ran racist campaigns to help promote the war to make Asian men seem fragile and Asian women seem sexually deviant, all to dehumanize the Asian countries being fought and make the soldiers in those countries hate the people who they were fighting.
Stereotypes such as these create a distorted view of Asians that directly contributes to violence and the deaths of Asian American citizens. The fear and sadness of the Asian American community must be addressed by law enforcement and government officials to protect Asian American lives. Systemic racism stays alive in the U.S. because of the denial of its existence. The job of the police force in American society is to protect and serve, but, in this moment, they are excusing violence at the cost of lives all in the name of “bad days.” This characterization of the alleged killer to only be a sex addict that cannot control himself denies the racial targeting and the racism Asian Americans have had to face and will continue to face. Bringing light to how the government had a role in this racial stereotyping would unify the country with their fellow Asian Americans and help ensure their safety; however, it is disappointing, but not surprising, with the police’s past for them to not speak on how race could have motivated the crime.
To show allyship and help solve this problem of racism and xenophobia, allies should talk to people in their communities who perpetuate these stereotypes, recognize and correct one’s own bias, dismantle unfairness in daily activities and lift up the voices of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who face the repercussions of white supremacy every day. This problem of white supremacy only continues a cycle of fear and disunity among Americans.
“It was around 2 in the morning when I first saw the news saying a guy killed 8 people in Atlanta. Since most of them were Asians and Asian hate crimes were increasing, I immediately thought ‘it’s definitely a hate crime against Asians,’ despite the news saying they don’t know,” senior Jennifer Ryu said. “It was pretty shocking, and as Asian hate crime cases increase, I’m honestly scared to even go out.”
This case of violence and the past year of violence towards minorities have been a slow burn of creating hateful stereotypes to hurt minorities and entire communities. The denial of the influence of racism is evidence of the judicial system’s bias and racial prejudice. People who recognize the current violence and wish to help those affected by racism and xenophobia should speak with Asian Americans in the community and ask them if they are alright during this time or if they need any help.
This gesture allows people to recognize that others understand their experiences with the hate, fear and anxiety they face. It also creates a safe space between those people to talk about these issues. There are also ways to help online. Resources like The Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Asian American Commission offer more in-depth articles and ways to help one’s community, and the families of the victims of the Atlanta shooting have GoFundMe’s to help the families of the victims recover and survive through this trauma.
Taking down systemic racism` means acknowledging and overcoming the racial bias and violence that is directed towards BIPOC groups. Being an ally in the community means correcting phrases that are hurtful and stereotypes each time that they appear and encouraging fair treatment towards the minorities in each area of life. Signing petitions and voting for public office members and government officials who recognize the problems of white supremacy, racism and xenophobia in America and wish to rectify it will ultimately help in creating a society where each person is treated fairly regardless of race or ethnicity.