Atlanta shooting: Shock and outrage as authorities deny hate crime

Progressives have denounced statements by law enforcement officials which have denied the racial and gendered motivation of the crime and sought to humanize the perpetrator

March 18, 2021 by Anish R M
Demonstration and a memorial held at the Chinatown in Washington DC on Wednesday, March 17, for the victims of Atlanta shooting. Photo: Philip Lewis via Twitter

Multiple shooting incidents occurred at three massage parlors in the US city Atlanta and in Acworth, an adjoining suburb in the state of Georgia, on Tuesday, March 16. The attack, suspected to have been conducted entirely by a single person, left eight murdered and one wounded. Of the eight people killed, seven were women, of which six were of Asian descent. The South Korean foreign ministry confirmed that at least four of the victims were of Korean descent, while local authorities in Atlanta are yet to confirm the exact nationality and origin of the killed workers.

The suspect, a 21-year-old man named Robert Aaron Long, was arrested after hours of manhunt in southwest Georgia. On Wednesday, he was charged with multiple counts of murders by local authorities. The attacks took place in massage parlors that hired women workers of Asian American descent.

Long was chased and arrested in connection with the Acworth shooting, and according to surveillance camera evidence being examined by the police, he is also suspected of being behind the two shootings in Atlanta which occurred earlier in the day.

The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact motive behind the killings and while civil rights and anti-hate crimes advocacy groups are cautious, many believe that the killings are connected to a growing wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans witnessed across the US.

Responding to the killings, Stop AAPI Hate, which has been tracking violence against Asian American individuals, tweeted that “few details have been released, including whether or not the shootings were related or motivated by hate. But right now there is a great deal of fear and pain in the Asian American community that must be addressed.”

The Korean media has also reported that an employee from one of the parlors that were attacked heard the perpetrator saying “I’m going to kill all Asians.” Such reports are yet to be corroborated by the US media.

On the other hand, investigators stated that Long denied a racial motive and said that he wanted to “eliminate his temptations” and was targeting establishments associated with the sex industry and was on his way to target the porn industry in Florida. The spas were located in “red-light districts” or neighborhoods known for establishments offering commercial sex work.

The Police and Sheriff’s office criticized for discounting hate crime

Activists and even city mayor Keisha Bottoms have called on the police and the Cherokee County sheriff to treat the murders as a hate crime, criticizing the police for not doing so and allegedly humanizing the murderer. The police have insisted that it is still too early to ascertain whether racism played a role in it, and dismissed Korean media’s reports.

Activists have criticized the law enforcement officers for taking the perpetrators word for face value. In their statement expressing outrage over the murders, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) insisted that “(w)e cannot make sense of this mass shooting without understanding the imperialist, sexist, and racist context in which we currently live.”

PSL argued that even if the motive of the perpetrator was to target commercial sex, it “reveals the deeply misogynistic character of this crime” and the targeting of women is fundamentally a hate crime. The statement also pointed out the widespread structural and physical violence inflicted on women, especially women who are racial minorities, immigrants and Indigenous Americans, as a context in which the shooting needs to be understood.

Announcing the charges on Wednesday, Jay Baker, the spokesperson of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said that the perpetrator was just having “a really bad day.” Baker was widely criticized for his statement which many insisted was attempting to humanize Long. According to some reports, Baker himself was seen promoting racist T-shirts that blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rising violence and US aggression on China

In a report published on Tuesday, March 16, by Stop AAPI Hate, it was found that between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, there have been at least 3,795 “hate incidents” reported across the US. The report found that verbal abuse (which includes racial slurs), around 68.1 percent, and shunning (or deliberate avoidance), 20.5 percent, constitute the two leading forms of hate incidents.

Physical violence makes up over 11 percent of these incidents, which translates to around 422 cases documented in the report, while online harassment and workplace discrimination make up for 6.8 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.

Women on the other hand were disproportionately targeted in these racial attacks, constituting 68 percent of all cases, while people of Chinese descent constituted 42.2 percent of the victims, followed by people of Korean (14.8 percent) and Vietnamese (9 percent) descent.

The hate crimes increased exponentially after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Right-wing politicians, including the then president Donald Trump, used racist language and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories to target China and the people of Chinese descent in the US to deflect blame from the administration’s failure to contain the outbreak.

Despite the change in administration, under the new president, Joe Biden, the US continues with its anti-China posturing. This is evident in the recent statements made against China by Biden administration’s state secretary Antony Blinken and defense secretary George Lloyd.

“Egregious acts of racialized gendered violence never happen in a vacuum,” wrote Labor Against Racism and War in a tweet, a movement supported by over 160 labor unions in the US, responding to the Atlanta shooting.

Calling for opposition to the “US manufactured campaign demonization campaign against China,” the movement said that the “yellow peril racist war drive is the root cause of spikes in anti-Asian violence. The US security state and media are complicit in creating a dangerous climate to everyone in the Asian community.”

PSL also echoed the same opposition to US foreign policy in their statement. “The Biden administration publicly condemned anti-Asian hate crimes, but these gestures ring hollow so long as members of his administration intensify the war drive and contribute to anti-China fear mongering,” reads the statement.

In the meanwhile, residents of Atlanta, the Asian American community and people across the US are holding memorials for the victims, raising funds and extending their solidarities for the affected families, and holding demonstrations demanding justice.