A murderous rampage by a 21-year-old white man that left eight dead – mostly women of Asian descent – in the US state of Georgia sent shockwaves through already shocked Asian-American communities . increased discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the survey has so far raised more questions than answers.
The police have accused Robert Aaron Long with the murders, which took place at three separate massage and spa establishments in the Atlanta area. He will be arrested on Thursday.
Long told police the attacks were not racially motivated and instead related to his “sex addiction.” Six of the eight victims were of Asian origin.
At least one official, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Captain Jay Baker, has also sought to downplay the racial component.
This prompted a groundswell backlash, and many expressed dismay that Long was not immediately charged with a hate crime. Baker’s own anti-Asian Facebook posts also raised concerns about the integrity of the investigation.
We have a history of violence against Asian Americans in this country – including an immigration exclusion law directed against an entire continent. The rise of AAPI hate crimes is a continuation of the brutality the AAPIs have endured since the inception of this country. #StopAAPIHate pic.twitter.com/iGgV65OLhl
– Bee Nguyen @ (@BeeForGeorgia) March 17, 2021
Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen said the killings stood at “the intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia” in the United States.
She also noted that, since the attacks are touted as “a murderous sex addiction spree,” Georgia’s hate crimes law also protects against gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Marylin Strickland, a Korean American Democrat, accused investigators of making excuses for the murder spree.
“Racially motivated violence must be denounced for what it is,” she said Wednesday in a speech to the House. “And we have to stop making excuses or renaming it as economic anxiety or sex addiction.”
Who are the victims?
The attacks began just before 5 p.m. (9 p.m. GMT) Tuesday when five people were shot dead at the Asian massage company Young near Woodstock, about 50 kilometers north of Atlanta, authorities said.
Four people died there: Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Daoyou Feng, 44, Xiaojie Tan, 49, and Paul Andre Michels, 54. A fifth victim, a Hispanic man, was injured but survived the attack.
Jill and I keep everyone touched by the shootings in Atlanta in our prayers. We don’t know the motive yet, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is in tremendous pain tonight. The recent attacks on the community are not American. They have to stop.
– President Biden (@POTUS) March 18, 2021
Yaun’s mother, Margaret Rushing, told WAGA-TV that Yaun and her husband visited the spa for a date. Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter.
Her half-sister, Dana Toole, said Yaun’s husband survived by locking himself in a room and was not injured.
Tan was a licensed massage therapist and reportedly owned the facility and a second spa in the area.
Andre Michels was a local business owner, according to the Daily Beast. His family members described him as an army veteran who owned an electricity company. His brother said he was interested in opening massage businesses.
No details have yet emerged on Feng.
About 45 minutes later, the shooter attacked the Gold Spa in Atlanta, where three women were shot.
Another woman was shot dead at the aromatherapy spa across the street.
The identity of the victims of the last two attacks has not yet been released.
Long was arrested at around 8 p.m. (00:00 GMT) after police blocked his vehicle about 240 km (150 miles) south of Atlanta. A 9mm gun was found in Long’s vehicle, which he allegedly bought legally before the attack.
The FBI is helping local authorities with the investigation.
What was the motive?
Long told police the murders were not racially motivated, instead claiming he had a “sex addiction.” Authorities said the companies targeted appeared to symbolize the “temptation” of Long, who was apparently traveling to Florida to attack “some type of porn industry.”
“He apparently has a problem, which he considers a sex addiction, and sees these places as something that allows him to go to these places, and it is a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” he said. Cherokee County Sheriff Baker told reporters.
Long was also a member of the Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia. A former pastor of the church told the New York Times that Long was one of the most engaged members of the church’s youth groups.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that Long had previously been in rehab for sex addiction, citing a man who shared accommodation with Long at the Roswell, Ga. Facility between August 2019 and January or February 2020.
To our Asian neighbors, to our family and to our friends. I know the world looks scarier today. More cruel. Know that we love you.
We mourn with you those who were killed last night in Atlanta. We will dismantle white supremacy on your side.
– Cori Bush (@CoriBush) March 17, 2021
Roommate Tyler Bayless told the channel Long struggled with his conflicting religious views and addiction.
So far, no manifestos or social media posts have emerged to provide additional insight into what motivated Long.
On a since-deleted Instagram account that appeared to be Long’s, he wrote in his bio: “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family and God. That pretty much sums up my life.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Wednesday warned investigators against “blaming the victims, shaming the victims.”
“We don’t know any additional information about his motives. We won’t start to blame the victims, and as far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating companies that haven’t been on our radar, the radar of [the Atlanta Police Department],” she said.
Was the murder motivated by race?
Many were outraged that Long was not immediately charged with a hate crime, with the hashtag #StopAsianHate being all the rage on social media following the murders.
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds told reporters on Wednesday it was too early to say whether the attack was racially motivated – “but indicators at the moment are that it may not be the case”.
Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said law enforcement needed “training to understand what hate crime is.”
Did the Atlanta-area murderer shoot strip club workers to relieve his alleged temptations? Or adult video stores? Or cinemas for adults? NO. In particular, he visited three places that disproportionately had Asian women. #StopAsianHate https://t.co/HFEEgstM9n
– Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 17, 2021
Long “was very clearly attacking a targeted group of people,” she told The Associated Press.
The attack comes as the Asian-American community as a whole has seen increased discrimination and attacks amid the coronavirus pandemic, which many say was fueled by former President Donald Trump, who has the virus is often given anti-Asian names like “Chinese flu”.
Hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian sentiment in New York City increased 1900% in 2020, with just one case reported in 2019 and 20 in 2020, according to the NYPD.
Meanwhile, the Stop AAPI Hate group, which documents cases of discrimination and assault against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country, reported 3,795 cases between March 19, 2020 and February 28. 2021.
Does racial prejudice extend to investigators?
Xenophobia towards Asians appears to have been perpetuated by at least one official helping with the investigation, with recently surfaced Facebook photos showing Cherokee County Sheriff’s Captain Baker last year promoting a t-shirt with racist language about China and the coronavirus.
The Facebook account, owned by a “Jay Baker” and featuring numerous photos of Baker dating back months, including a photo in which he is in uniform outside the sheriff’s office, was deleted Wednesday evening.
Baker also stoked concerns that Long would receive preferential treatment, appearing to have a sympathetic tone when he told reporters on Wednesday that Long was “quite tired and had been a bit at the end of his rope.”
“Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and he did,” he said.
this is what we are NOT going to do
– Jenny Yang (@jennyyangtv) March 17, 2021
Asian-American activists said Baker’s comments and the Facebook post undermined public confidence that investigators were adequately addressing Tuesday’s atrocities.
“Seeing this article is both disturbing and scandalous. This is a testament to the structural racism we all face, ”said Vincent Pan, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a civil rights organization that fights anti-Asian hate crimes.
“Coupled with the comments coming out of the press conference, this does not give members of the community the confidence that our experiences and the pain and suffering we feel are taken seriously, at least by this particular person,” said Pan to the Associated Presse.