Eight people are dead in the Atlanta area after a shooting spree at three massage parlors. Six of the victims are Asian women, prompting strong suspicions that the killings were racially motivated in a time of increased anti-Asian violence and harassment. Less than a week ago, President Joe Biden condemned hate crimes against Asian American people, who, because they have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the coronavirus pandemic, are “forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America.”
The same night as the killings, Donald Trump did a phone interview with Fox News in which he called COVID-19 the “China virus,” as he has done repeatedly over the past year. During that time, there have been 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, according to data collected by Stop AAPI Hate.
Police captured the suspect, a 21-year-old white man named Robert Aaron Long, about 150 miles away, in Crisp County, using a pursuit intervention technique (PIT maneuver) to force him to stop his car. Long was unharmed.
The killings started at Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia, north of Atlanta. There, two Asian women, a white woman, and a white man were killed, with two dying on the scene, one on the way to the hospital, and one while in treatment. A Hispanic man was also injured. An hour later, two spas in Atlanta were targeted, with three women killed at Gold Spa and one at Aromatherapy Spa.
At this point the victims’ names have not been released; the South Korean Consulate confirmed that four were ethnic Koreans.
Nothing is yet known about the suspected killer’s motives, though his targets seem to offer a strong clue. He’s a 2017 high school graduate whose apparent Instagram tagline is “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life.” A high school classmate told The Daily Beast, “He was very innocent seeming and wouldn’t even cuss. He was sorta nerdy and didn’t seem violent from what I remember. He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.”
It sure seems like that classmate was wrong about the violent part, but maybe the warning signs are more likely to be missed in some people than others. Like, say, the white sons of youth pastors.
Of the 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents cataloged by Stop AAPI Hate, 68% targeted women. Russell Jeung, the group’s founder and a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, told NBC News before the Atlanta killings that “There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets.”
In recent incidents, a man spewed a barrage of racist slurs before pepper-spraying an Asian American gas station owner, and a Texas ramen restaurant was vandalized with anti-Asian slurs after its owner spoke out against Gov. Greg Abbott. Jeung, however, cautioned against seeing recent violent attacks on Asian American seniors as necessarily part of the same trend, saying “We're really careful to note that this violence against Asian Americans in high-crime neighborhoods has always been high,” and “decoupling them then helps diagnose different solutions.”
Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters “The President has been briefed overnight about the horrific shootings in Atlanta. White House officials have been in touch with the Mayor’s office and will remain in touch with the FBI.”