We wait for more details from Georgia. But what we know should put every Asian American on high alert—if you weren’t already.
Eight people are dead in a shooting spree at three massage spas around Atlanta. Six of the victims have been identified as Asian women. Four of them have been confirmed by South Korea’s foreign ministry as Korean, according to news reports.
The arrested suspect is a white male, Robert Aaron Long, 21, who lived just north of Atlanta in Cherokee County, the site of the first massage parlor hit.
According to news reports overnight, Long’s Instagram account, since taken down, had this tagline about his life: “Pizza, guns, drums, music, family and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life.”
Authorities say after the Cherokee County shootings, Long then drove 45 minutes south to the Buckhead area of Atlanta. He showed up in another security cam video at two other similar Asian spas. That’s where four people died, including two Asian women.
It makes everyone wonder the obvious.
Was he targeting Asians? Was he acting alone or part of a group, as he added to the statistics that have slowly terrorized Asian Americans over the last year?
Reports say police in Seattle and in New York have placed resources in Asian American communities, just in case of copycats.
You know the community already is on edge.
The number of self-reported instances of anti-Asian violence has risen to nearly 4,000 since March of 2020, according to a new report by Stop AAPI Hate.
And that’s probably a low number since most instances go unmentioned and unreported. The website’s annual compilation also shows Georgia with its share of incidents—32, with 20 percent involving physical assault.
Even more striking was this finding. Women were victimized at three times the rate of men, including an instance where a woman reportedly stood in line at a pharmacy and was sprayed with Lysol as the perp shouted “You’re the infection. Go home. We don’t want you here.”
Most of the abuse reported in Georgia was verbal harassment. This from an Asian woman: “A man cut in front of me in the check-out line and I shook my head at him. He waited for me outside the store and confronted me and said, “F**ing lying b**ch, who the fk are you? You are not better than me. You weren’t in front. That’s why you’re spreading this shit. Fking nasty dirty conspiracy Chinese! You’re why we gotta wear masks, you disease-spreading, bh. Fyou people! Then he drove off.”
The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum sent me a note late Tuesday, indicating that more than 68 percent of reported incidents of anti-Asian harassment and violence have involved women. It cited its own NAPAWF poll that revealed nearly half of AAPI women have been affected the past two years. “Even as the pandemic and the racist scapegoating that came in its wake, AAPI women routinely experienced racialized misogyny,” the group said in a statement. “ Now our community, and particularly women, elders, and workers with low-wage jobs, are bearing the brunt of continued vilification as a result of the pandemic.”
So what was Robert Aaron Long thinking on Tuesday? Investigators will comb through the 21-year-old’s social media sites to see if he has provided clues. Early reports indicate a love of hunting and his church. But did he have specific political or religious views? Will they find an anti-Asian manifesto? Did he engage in dialogue with friends? Did he act alone?
So far, Long is the only one suspected of shooting up Asian spas, killing eight people, six of them Asian American women.
And even though I’m 3,000 miles away in California, I feel for the Asian American community in Georgia.
As we saw in the last election, the Asian American presence in that state is growing. The Atlanta area is about 7.4 percent Asian. In the past, I’ve spoken to the thriving Korean community at a church in Marrieta. The numbers of Korean churches in Atlanta are clear signs of our community’s growth.
I’ve also traveled to visit my daughter who lived in the state and noticed how many people didn’t know if I was Asian or Mexican. As an Asian American Filipino born in California, being in Georgia sometimes felt like going back in time.
We’ve faced being “othered” all throughout our experience in America. Sadly, what happened in Georgia this week is nothing new.
After last week when a second elderly Asian man died in Oakland, some of us may have seen these attacks as focused on the elderly—those in their 70s and 80s.
It’s clear now that we’re all vulnerable to vicious, deplorable acts of racism. It’s part of our history. Knowing that should give us the courage and strength to overcome this moment wherever we may be.