ATLANTA — The killing of eight people Tuesday night who worked at three metro Atlanta massage parlors has come amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus across the United States.
While metro Atlanta police are now saying Robert Aaron Long, who was arrested in South Georgia Tuesday night, was targeting massage parlors and “some type of porn industry,” the fact the shootings took place at local spas, many of whom employ Asians, has brought renewed attention to alleged hate crimes against that demographic.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden “has been briefed overnight about the horrific shootings in Atlanta,” adding, “White House officials have been in touch with the mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI.” A formal White House statement is expected later Wednesday.
Long, 21, is suspected in a series of shootings at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor in Cherokee County that left four dead and one person injured; the Gold Spa in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood that left three women dead; and the Aromatherapy Spa across the street, where one woman was shot to death.
“Even as we’ve battled the pandemic, we’ve continued to neglect the longer-lasting epidemic of gun violence in America,” former President Barack Obama said on Twitter. “Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday its diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed from police that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent.
Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Wednesday Long may have a sexual addiction and frequented the types of businesses he allegedly targeted.
“During his interview, he gave no indicators that this was racially motivated,” Reynolds said. “We asked him that specifically and the answer was no.”
“I want to mention the attacks that happened just a few hours ago in Atlanta, in which several women were killed, including, we believe, four women of Korean descent,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday morning. “We are horrified by this violence which has no place in America or anywhere.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is under heavy criticism for a dramatic rise in violent crime in the city, offered her sympathies on social media: “My prayers are with the families and friends of the victims whose lives were cut short by these shootings,” read her statement posted to Twitter.
Other state leaders offered their reactions to the shootings.
“Our entire family is praying for the victims of these horrific acts of violence,” Gov. Brian Kemp said on Twitter.
“My staff members and I are horrified by the violent shootings that took place at businesses in Woodstock and Atlanta this afternoon,” said U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who represents Georgia’s 11th district, which includes Woodstock, on Facebook. “Our prayers are with the families of the victims this evening, and for healing for those injured. I am so grateful for our law enforcement professionals who identified and apprehended the suspect.”
“My heart is broken after the tragic violence in Atlanta that took eight lives,” Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said on social media. “Once again we see that hate is deadly. Praying for the families of the victims and for peace for the community.”
“The attacks against members of Georgia’s Asian American community are absolutely horrifying,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Atlanta, who also chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia. “As details continue to emerge, this attack sadly follows the unacceptable pattern of violence against Asian Americans that has skyrocketed throughout this pandemic. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as the entire AAPI community in Georgia and across the country who have been heavily targeted with racism and hate. An attack on our Asian American neighbors is an attack on us all, and will not go ignored or unanswered.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed the shootings on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia said: “I’m heartbroken for the victims of last night’s horrific shootings in Georgia, and for the victims’ families. I commend the authorities for swiftly apprehending the armed suspect. While the motive for last night’s terrible violence remains under investigation, I express my love and support for and stand in solidarity with the Asian American community, which has endured a shocking increase in violence and harassment over the last year.”
Reaction to the shootings has come from national leading sports figures, other mayors and congressional representatives with large Asian populations.
NBA star LeBron James tweeted: “My condolences goes out to the families of all the victims and the entire Asian community tonight on what transpired in Atlanta at the Aromatherapy Spa. Coward a— young man!! Just senseless and tragic!!”
“We are appalled and devastated at the violence in Georgia that has taken eight lives, six of whom were Asian American women,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. “We mourn with the families of these victims. We are horrified and continue to be concerned for the safety of our community members across the country as violence toward Asian Americans has escalated. Elected officials in Georgia must support these families and speak up immediately against hate and violence directed at the Asian American community.”
”Last night, eight people were tragically shot and killed in Atlanta,” said Charlie Flemming, Georgia AFL-CIO president. “All but two were Asian American, and all but one were women. These women were killed while working low wage, vulnerable jobs while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. While the motive for the shootings are still under investigation, one thing is certain: These attacks speak to the systemic impacts of misogyny, racism, and white supremacy targeted at the Asian American community. We stand in solidarity with the families who have had these lives unjustly stolen from them. However, Asian Americans need more than solidarity — they need our support, commitment and real solutions.”
Huge metropolitan areas such as New York City, Seattle and Houston are on alert regarding possible future crimes against Asian-American populations.
Other civil liberties groups and prominent Americans also expressed their dismay. The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said she’s “deeply saddened that we live in a nation and world permeated by hate and violence. I stand with Asian members of our World House, who are a part of our global human family.”
A rash of crimes victimizing elderly Asian Americans in the past two months has renewed outcry for more attention from politicians and the media. On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on legislation allocating $1.4 million to Stop AAPI Hate and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The funding will go toward community resources and further tracking of anti-Asian hate incidents.
Local officials and citizens have also taken notice. Initiatives like increased police presence, volunteer patrols and special crime hotlines are coming to fruition. Big-name brands like the Golden State Warriors and Apple, based in the Bay Area, have promised to donate to the cause.
More than 3,000 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since mid-March 2020. While the encounters don’t often rise to the legal definition of a hate crime, police in several major cities still saw an uptick in Asian-targeted hate crimes between 2019 and 2020, according to data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University, San Bernardino.
New York City went from three incidents to 27, Los Angeles from seven to 15, and Denver had three incidents in 2020 — the first reported there in six years.
“We cannot ignore the fact that anti-Asian hate and violence disproportionately impacts women,” Choimorrow said. “More than 68 percent of reported incidents of anti-Asian harassment and violence have been from women. Even before the pandemic and the racist scapegoating that came in its wake, AAPI women routinely experienced racialized misogyny. Now, our community, and particularly women, elders, and workers with low-wage jobs, are bearing the brunt of continued vilification.”
Story by Tim Darnell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution