While Atlanta law enforcement is still not calling the murder of eight people at Asian massage parlours a hate crime, resurfaced social media posts from a member of the Sheriff's office have now come under fire. After 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long admitted to killing eight people, including six Asian women, during a deadly shooting rampage on Tuesday, a Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said Long was simply having a “really bad day.”
“Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” said Jay Baker during a press conference with the Atlanta Police Department on Wednesday. But Baker has his own history of sinophobia, and shared posts on Facebook that echo former U.S. President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Daily Beast reports.
The Facebook posts, which were live on Twitter, show Baker promoting shirts that read, “COVID-19 imported virus from CHY-NA.” In a March 30 post, Baker wrote, “Place your order while they last,” adding a smiley-face emoji. “Love me shirt,” Baker wrote in a later post from April 2020. “Get yours while they last.”
Sheriff Frank Reynolds, who is Facebook friends with Baker, told the Daily Beast he was unaware of Baker’s posts. “I am not aware of that. I will have to contact him, but thank you for bringing that to my attention,” Reynolds said. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Refinery29.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Baker attributed Long’s actions to his apparent “sexual addiction” and said the 21-year-old targeted the spas to “take out that temptation.” Despite not calling the attacks a hate crime, police say the investigation is ongoing and the murders could still be categorized as such.
Long specifically targeted working class Asian women, who are “constantly subjected to sexual assault and violence,” said writer Mimi Zhu in an Instagram post. “Spas, churches, temples, and mosques are sacred spaces for the spirit to find peace,” wrote Zhu. “White supremacists have tactfully and historically targeted these spaces because they target the unarmed, and the unexpecting. The Asian women who were targeted and murdered were in spaces of restfulness and relaxation.”
Tuesday’s shootings happened after a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans over the last year. A report published just one day before the shootings by the group Stop AAPI Hate noted 3,795 incidents of verbal harassment, physical assault, workplace discrimination, and other forms of violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
“For all feeling impacted by this continuing chain of violence against Asians, I hope you’ll take some time to think abt why these (racialized, gendered) massage parlours were targeted & how much those who work in those spaces are deserving & worthy of respect, dignity, protection,” activist Hyejin Shim wrote on Twitter, pointing to the sexualized violence and exploitation that Asian women face in the workplace. Shim added, “sending more police into already criminalized sites like massage parlours will absolutely NOT protect Asian sex workers.”