On Tuesday evening, eight people were killed in a series of shootings at three Atlanta massage parlours. Six of the victims were Asian and two were white; seven were women. Although there is no confirmed motive at this time, authorities and public officials believe the shooter, a white man named Robert Aaron Long, was specifically targeting Asian people. As a result of the shooting, police in Atlanta, Seattle, and New York announced that they would be increasing patrolling in support of Asian communities and businesses as a precaution.
The attacks began at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, CNN reported. Of the five people shot there, two died at the scene, and another two died at the hospital. Nearly an hour later, three people were killed at Gold Massage Spa in northeast Atlanta, and then another person was killed at Aroma Therapy Spa. According to a news release from the Atlanta police, it is “extremely likely” that the cases were connected. Long was taken into custody at 8:30 p.m.
"Many have asked whether these shootings are related to Cherokee County's shootings," Atlanta Police Sgt. John Chafee said. "Video footage from our Video Integration Center places the Cherokee County suspect's vehicle in the area, around the time of our Piedmont Road (in Atlanta) shootings. That, along with video evidence viewed by investigators, suggests it is extremely likely our suspect is the same as Cherokee County's, who is in custody."
Tuesday’s shooting comes after a year of rampant anti-Asian and anti-Asian-American rhetoric in the U.S., and a recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. In recent months, over two dozen Asian Americans — many over the age of 60 — have been assaulted and robbed in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Last year, one woman was standing in front of her Brooklyn home when a group of teenagers reportedly threw acid on her, accused her of “causing” coronavirus, and called her a “bitch.”
Just last month, the New York Police Department shared a video of a man violently attacking an Asian woman at a Chinatown subway station after calling her a “diseased bitch.” In December, a group of Asian students at Emory University told Georgia Public Broadcasting that they had received everything from subtle aggressions to outright harassment from peers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Molina Zhang, an international student from China, told GPB that she was making small talk with a stranger while waiting for a takeout order. When she told him she was studying biology, he said, “Oh, I hope you don’t invent any viruses in the future.”
As many have noted, a stark number of these incidents have been perpetrated against Asian women — especially those who are working-class and older. “We can’t talk about the surge in racism, violence, and harassment against Asian Americans in the past year without talking about the particularly virulent hatred directed toward Asian women,” wrote Dr. Melissa May Borja, a professor and a researcher with Stop AAPI Hate. “Nor can we talk about COVID-related racism without talking about how Asian American women are leading the fight for safe, inclusive communities.”
Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, told NBC that stereotypes about Asian women led to the increased number of gendered, racist attacks we’ve seen in the past year. “There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets,” he explained.
Manju Kulkarni, executive director of California’s Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, also told NPR that the “larger trend” of attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can “in many ways” be tied back to prejudice resulting from COVID-19 — and former President Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic policies, language, and lies. Trump has consistently called COVID-19 the “China Virus.” Just last night — after the shootings in Atlanta — Trump referred to COVID as the “China Virus” on Fox News.
Although Trump is no longer in office, his hateful rhetoric is still pervasive — just as it was in the U.S. even before he took office. Hate crimes against Asian Americans have also historically risen during periods of tension or crisis, CNN reported. Tung Nguyen, the director of the Asian American Research Center on Health, said that Asian Americans experience “the racism of being made invisible.” He explained, “It’s easier to hurt someone when they’re invisible. Our invisibility is all over the place.”