The Atlanta Shootings: Call it a Hate Crime
Updated: Mar 12
Dear Asian Youth is shocked by the horrific hate-fueled violence that took place in Atlanta this Tuesday. We strongly condemn the events that occurred, and we grieve for the eight victims and their families. Seven of the victims were women, and six were members of the Asian community. They were all murdered by this horrendous act of xenophobic violence. While we learn more about these people, we extend our deepest sympathy to the friends and family members of those who were killed and the greater AAPI community who have been affected by these incidents.
As an Asian-led organization that promotes intersectional activism, BIPOC solidarity, and social equity and equality, Dear Asian Youth stands firmly against racism, misogyny, and white supremacy in all forms. We will continue to uphold our values of diversity, pushing an anti-racist narrative, and inclusion of all identities.We also urge our community to actively participate in doing the same. It is only in solidarity can we foster a safer and more equitable society for all.
A shooting rampage in the Atlanta area left eight people dead this past Tuesday. Local Korean sources interviewed an employee of the Gold Massage Spa, who said that the shooter claimed he would “kill all Asians” at the time. Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent, and seven of the eight were women. Four were confirmed to be Korean nationals by the Korean Consulate, and two are believed to be of Chinese descent.
This attack targeted three predominantly Asian spas across the Atlanta area. The shooter was arrested three hours later about 150 miles away in Crisp County “without incident.” The shooting comes at a time when the Asian Community is facing a string of hate-fueled attacks across the country.
This is not at all an isolated incident. Everything, from the violence that occurred to the response by law enforcement, follows a deep history of xenophobia, racial scapegoating, sexism, and the justification and normalization of the fetishization of Asians — especially of Asian women in the U.S.
Many of the recent hate crimes against Asian women are rooted in the perpetuation of stereotypes that deem them “exotic,” “submissive,” and “docile.” This persisting fetishization and hyper-sexualization of Asian women has been shaped by America’s history of imperialism, the legal code, and the prevailing culture. This harmful environment for Asian women can be traced back to the type of labor they were restricted to in the U.S. in the early 19th century.
During the gold rush, the US opened up to a new wave of immigrants, many of whom came from China to work in the West. White Americans had begun forming stereotypical opinions about Asian women, and legislators sought to regulate their entry into the US. The Page Act of 1875 was one of the first exclusionary policies and was enacted for the purpose of “restricting prostitution and forced labor.” In reality, the policy was weaponized to systematically prevent Asian women from entering the country under the impression that they were prostitutes and granted white immigration officers the authority to make decisions on whether an Asian woman fit their “high moral standards.”
During the US imperialism of the 20th century, this perceived association of Asian women with immoral behavior was further amplified. As American service members travelled abroad to fight wars in the Asian Pacific region, including Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, and Japan, many engaged in soliciting sex workers and patronizing industries that encouraged sex trafficking, further feeding into the stereotypes of Asian women being “sexual deviants.” The perceptions that Asian women are cheap and disposable workers made them economically vulnerable. The fact that the six Asian women murdered worked low-wage, highly vulnerable jobs indicates this growing impact of structural violence, misogyny, and white supremacy in the US. By ignoring and normalizing the hyper sexualization of Asian women, we are excusing and tolerating this violence.
In 2020 alone, hate crimes against the Asian community increased by approximately 150%. However, immigrants tend to avoid reporting crimes for fear of authorities questioning their immigration status. Thus, the actual number of hate crimes in is likely much higher than stated. Most victims are elders, largely unable to defend themselves, therefore making easy targets. Additionally, the COVID-19-19 recession has especially been hard for Asian women, many of whom work in the service sector and face higher risk of unemployment.
Many activists have attributed the rise in these hate crimes to former President Donald Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric, which many of his supporters take at face value. Trump has continually blamed China for the spread of COVID-19-19, calling it the “China Virus” and “Kung-Flu,” and all-around promoting harmful stereotypes that further encourage division, in America. Polls conducted by Pew Research Center reveal that many Americans now negatively associate Asians with the pandemic and its lasting effects. Combined with systemic racism and xenophobia, Asian Americans have taken the fall for a virus that could have been prevented by the previous administration with emergency safety measures instead of endless finger-pointing.
As of Thursday morning, the shooter was charged with eight counts of murder. He admitted to the crimes but claimed they were not racially motivated. Instead, he claimed it was a sex addiction and the need to “eliminate the temptation” provided by the spas that drove him to commit the crimes. However, as Congressman Ted Lieu pointed out, the shooter did not relieve his alleged temptations by targeting the employees at strip clubs, adult video stores, or theaters. Instead, he specifically went to parlors that consisted disproportionately of Asian women.
Cherokee County sheriff Jay Baker’s explanation that the shooter was having “a really bad day… and this is what he did” was dismissive of the crimes that were committed. The comments shifted the focus from the victims and humanized the perpetrator. A growing trend we've seen is news outlets taking the shooter's identity as a “white Christian man” to paint the image that he isn’t a disgruntled, violent terrorist who murdered eight people on his “bad day.”
In comparison, we see the news fail to do the same for the victims. Many outlets fail to tell the stories of the women that were murdered, or even humanize them. We knew the identity of the shooter just hours after the story broke; however, it isn't until three days later that we learn the names of all the victims. Washington Post released a story quoting the shooter's youth pastor before writing a story about the lives and experiences of any of the victims.
After the press release, people on the internet found that Baker was also anti-Asian. Screenshots from a Facebook post from March 2020 promoted anti-Asian T-shirts, right when the U.S. went into lockdown because of COVID-19. The T-shirts read, “COVID-19 Imported Virus From CHY-NA.” Baker’s caption to the photo of the T-shirts read “Place your order while they last” and “Love my shirt.” When these screenshots surfaced, the Facebook post was deleted, and Baker refused to comment.
The police department’s inability to recognize these crimes as racially-motivated dismisses the actions of the shooter and is an injustice to the AAPI and BIPOC communities. Jay Baker’s racism and anti-Asian sentiment was on display through his debrief and was cemented when the screenshots surfaced. Vincent Pan, the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a civil rights organization, was quoted saying, “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.”
The attacks have had a profound impact on the Asian Community and especially Asian women. While law enforcement has yet to call the incident “racially motivated,” many Asian Americans are living in fear. Six members of our community were gunned down in cold blood. Many of us wake up fearful for our lives and those of our family and community members.
Make no mistake — this violence was racially motivated. Even if the shooter denies racial motivation, echoing his works is incredibly dangerous. The three businesses that were attacked were all predominantly Asian, or had some affiliation with the Asian community. Do not let the comments of the police, let alone comments from the perpetrator, convince you otherwise.
Multiple politicians and people in government have come together to stand with the Asian community in condemning the violence that occurred. President Biden stated:
“I’m very concerned, because as you know, I’ve been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months, and I think it is very, very troubling…I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer. I’m waiting for an answer as the investigation proceeds from the FBI and from the Justice Department.”
Vice President Harris said in a statement:
“It is tragic. Our country, the president and I and all of us, we grieve for those lost. Our prayers are with the families of those who have been killed. This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,”
This sentiment was echoed by many fellow Asian American Lawmakers, including Judy Chu who said:
“I am utterly devastated to learn about the 8 people senselessly shot to death in Georgia tonight. 6 of these victims are Asian American women. Our community has been facing a relentless increase in attacks and harassment over the past year. As we wait for more details to emerge, I ask everyone to remember that hurtful words and rhetoric have real life consequences. Please stand up, condemn this violence, and help us #StopAsianHate”
Right now, as our community is facing increased violence and hatred boiling over from years of dangerous rhetoric, we must condemn and call out incidents of hate when they happen. We must ensure that the narrative is focused on the victims of the crime and not the perpetrators. We must address these crimes in a manner that is not divisive, but conducive to conversation and solidarity within BIPOC communities. We must show up — physically, verbally and monetarily. At the bottom of this article are a list of organizations you can support.
Tuesday’s events are a sign that white supremacy is still very much alive and well. The perpetrator does not get to decide if their actions were racially motivated or not. The public gets to decide that. We as a community — and our allies — must speak out against this racism, this hatred and this violence. We must build solidarity with other BIPOC communities, work to educate, and spread awareness to our community’s historical narrative and who we are today.