AAPI communities in shock following Atlanta shootings

“I’ve been shot! Please come.”

These were the words of Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, one of the survivors of a series of shootings in Atlanta, GA, as he called his wife moments before he lost consciousness. Though he may have fortunately survived the terrible night, the haunting memories of the night where eight unfortunate lives were lost at the hands of another hate crime will live within him forever.

On Tuesday, March 16, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long opened fire on three spas in Atlanta. After purchasing a nine-millimeter handgun, he entered Young’s Asian Massage at around 4 p.m., beginning his evening of terror around an hour following his entrance. Moving quickly to Gold Spa, then Aromatherapy Spa, he took eight lives within the span of an hour, six of them being of Chinese or Korean descent.

Shortly after police released surveillance footage of the assault, Long’s parents alerted the police in fear that their son was the suspect in the shootings. Georgia State Patrol stopped his vehicle approximately 3.5 hours after the shooting after utilizing a tracking device on his car to ascertain his location. Long was presumed to have been driving to Florida to commit another similar crime, this time related to the porn industry.

Long was charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault on Wednesday, March 17, as the Asian-American community of not only Atlanta but all over the United States, exploded with grief over the lives that were lost. Though police have yet to uncover the true motives behind Long’s act of violence, many presume it to be a hate crime, targeted in anger against Asian-Americans. 

According to Korean-American news source Chosun Ilbo, an anonymous Gold Spa employee who fled the scene as Long opened fire reported hearing Long comment that he would “kill all Asians.”

Many Asian-Americans have expressed grief and anger over these comments, but in released police statements, Long allegedly denied any racial motives. Owing the stimulus of his heinous actions to a self-reported sexual addiction, he claims to have launched the attacks as elimination of temptation and as a form of vengeance. Also admitting to frequenting massage parlors, especially the ones upon which he launched the attacks, he appears to have viewed the Asian women who were employed there as sexual objects.

Bella Jansson, a Caucasian ally and member of local Asian activism and media group Guilford Asian Society, comments on her feelings on the shooting, as well as the under-covered systemic racism and fetishization Asian-Americans continue to face.

“I feel guilty,” she said. “I feel guilty that something so gross and violent is happening to a group of people with no real reason, just ignorant hate. I’m just so sad for the Asian- American community.” 

It is not the first time Asian-Americans have been the subject of acts of both violence and fetishization on a global scale. U.K. police data suggests a rise of 300% in reported hate crimes toward Asian-Americans, particularly East Asians, after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar trends have been observed in the United States, as well as many other nations, though statistics are difficult to procure. However, hate against Asian-Americans has been a glaring issue long before the pandemic.

In an interview with ABC News, Carmelyn Malalis, the commissioner of the New York City Commission of Human Rights, commented on why so many statistics on Asian-American hate crimes are not only unreliable, but an “undershot” of the true magnitude of these issues, both during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One huge issue that we’ve talked about with some partners across the country is the need to make sure that as people are doing outreach, as people are doing intake, that there’s language accessibility,” she commented. “In a lot of communities, especially when we’re talking about AAPI immigrant communities, government or law enforcement has not always been a source of support for them,” she added, noting that many Asians immigrated to the United States to escape governmental oppression.

Indeed, law enforcement has not been a source of support within this shooting. In an infamous press release, Captain Jay Parker of Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office made a comment that infuriated Asian-Americans across the country. 

“Yesterday was a really bad day for (Long), and this is what he did,” he stated.

Activists quickly took to social media to express their frustration with patterns of apathy previously observed in Asian-American hate crimes.

“Imagine losing your loved one to a senseless shooting, and the police captain says this about the shooter,” Angela Chen, morning anchor at KESQ, tweeted. 

The hashtags #stopasianhate, #stopasianviolence, and #stopaapihate continue to trend on Twitter, as the Asian-American community and allies mourn the lives lost in this tragic event and seek justice for these individuals. Asian activists have currently asked all allies not to use the hashtag #asianlivesmatter, in order to avoid erasure and co-opting of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Guilford College students have historically been vocal about their support for BIPOC issues, and this shooting is no exception.

“Everyone fears someone or something. Many Americans seem to fear different cultures and what it could mean for their own cushioned lives,” Asian-American Guilford student Mei Lander stated. “Hate toward Asians has not been a new occurrence; however, it is just now being acknowledged and shared with the public.”