We must confront the racism and dangers Asians face today. Over the past year, hate crimes against Asian Americans have burgeoned into a full-blown crisis. The STOP AAPI Hate National Report recorded nearly 3,800 self-reported hate incidents against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February. Tragically, this crisis shows no signs of slowing.
Recently, a white male took the lives of eight people in three different massage spa locations in Atlanta. Though six of the victims were women of Asian descent, authorities are reluctant to classify the recent Atlanta spa killings as hate crimes. According to Rodney Bryant, acting chief of the Atlanta Police Department, it remains unclear whether the shooting spree would be classified as a hate crime.
Bryant explained the suspect’s potential motives to a crowd of reporters. Through his explanation, Bryant humanized the shooter, describing the murders as the result of the killer having a bad day. He went on to say that the massage spas were targeted because of what the suspect described as a sexual addiction. This sexual addiction was apparently at odds with his religion, causing him immense guilt, which he then dealt with by destroying the temptations. It is, however, very much in line with the hyper-sexualization and fetishization of Asian women.
The Atlanta spa killings, and how it was handled in the media by the authorities, ripped open the wounds of the Asian American community. Mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and aunts of six families had just been murdered in cold blood. Who were these women? They were Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Delaina A. Yaun, 33; Xiaojie Tan and Yong A. Yue, 63.
Rather than painting a picture of six Americans being murdered in cold blood at work, Bryant instead drew our sympathy to the internal struggles that the suspect was confronting as he sat in a jail cell. He drew our attention to the guilt that catalyzed the killer to buy a gun the morning of the shootings; the killer’s moral battle that would be won by eliminating the temptation — Asian women in spas — and the killer’s internal struggle that ultimately would manifest as murderous acts of violence.
The Atlanta spa mass shootings were premeditated acts of violence that targeted Asian American women at their place of work. Leaders in Asian American communities say it is critical to not ignore the fact that Asian Americans were targeted.
“Having a bad day” was a poor choice of words on the part of Bryant. Unfortunately, he had the attention of the entire nation during this press conference. With this platform, he managed to humanize the killer, overlook the victims and their grieving families, and proved oblivious to a national racial issue. Shortly after the press conference, Bryant was removed from the case by the department’s leadership.
Asians — primarily women and the elderly — are increasingly becoming the targets of hate crimes. These acts of violence are happening in neighborhoods like Compton, at workplaces in Atlanta, on daily walks around a city block in San Francisco, and even on subway carts in New York City.
Last year’s steep incline of hate crimes against Asians grew along with the coronavirus outbreak. No mere coincidence. It is in large part due to toxic rhetoric that weaponized the coronavirus as a “China virus.” Across the country, there has been an uptick of racialized rhetoric such as “Kung flu” and “China virus.” Such rhetoric fanned the flames of racial tensions, helped justify and displace anger and hate. This was geared toward not only the Chinese but also Asians who have been umbrellaed under a racialized contempt associated with the COVID-19 virus.