On Tuesday, March 16th, a white gunman, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, went on a shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia that left eight people dead at three different Atlanta-area spas, six of which were women of Asian descent.Authorities were able to track and arrest Long later that night on an Interstate in South Georgia; he was reportedly heading to Florida to commit more crimes. Long, who is currently being held and was interviewed at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center by both local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was charged on Wednesday with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Authorities reported that Long had confessed to the crime and told them that he had a sex addiction and that the attacks on the spas were not racially motivated. However, the Sherriff’s office has stated that it was too early to determine whether he will be charged with a hate crime. Their responses to the shootings have been widely criticized across the nation for both downplaying the role that bias and racism that likely played a large part in the attack and for excusing Long’s attacks as a result of a “bad day .” Sheriff Frank Reynolds on Monday, March 22nd, stated that “to preserve the case for the prosecution, the Cherokee Sherriff’s Office will not be making any more comments about the case at this time.”
While the investigation into the heinous crimes is ongoing, the shootings in Atlanta have sparked outrage and amplified the fears of the Asian American community.
According to the group STOP AAPI Hate a coalition that tracks incidents of violent and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, hate crimes against members of these communities have dramatically increased since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In their recent national report, STOP AAPI Hate reported that there were 3,795 incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 19, 2020 to February 28th of this year. The majority of those incidents included verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%). Women of these groups were also found to experience hate crimes 2.3 times more than men. In another study based on the police department statistics of 16 of the U.S. largest cities, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that anti-Asian hate crimes surged 149% in 2020, with the first spike occurring in March and April of 2020. Another study (Links to an external site.) published in the American Journal of Public Health focused on the impact of anti-Asian and inflammatory rhetoric used by former President Trump on Twitter. According to Laura Kurtzman of UC San Francisco, researchers found that coronavirus related tweets with anti-Asian hashtags increased following President Trump’s “Chinese virus” tweet and that those tweets were likely to be paired with more overtly racist hashtags. The results of these three studies highlight the growing trend of discrimination against the Asian American community and the promulgation of anti-Asian rhetoric during the coronavirus pandemic.
Most states have hate crime laws, but these types of crimes are both largely undercounted by police agencies and underreported by victims. Although the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 requires the Department of Justice and the FBI to compile and publish an annual report on hate crime statistics, not all police agencies submit their data for the report. According to CNN , more than 3,000 police agencies did not submit crime statistics to the FBI for their annual crime reports in 2019. Of the 16,000 agencies that did submit their data, only 1 in 7 reported instances of hate crimes. In addition, victims are often deterred from reporting these types of crimes to law enforcement due to the fear of or lack of trust in law enforcement, immigration status, and language barriers. As a result, organizations, such as STOP AAPI Hate, have created spaces where victims can self-report hate crimes and incidents of bias perpetrated against them.
1. Although law enforcement officials have yet to release the motive behind the shooting spree, some officers have downplayed the role of bias in their statements. Do you believe that the shooting spree at the Atlanta-area spas was motivated by racial bias?
2. Practice good critical thinking and thoughtful online responding: Consider which side you agree with and WHY. What was your thought process? Find evidence to support the side of the argument you agree with more (e.g., book chapters, websites, journal articles, TED talks, videos, etc.), but make sure to mention the other side of the argument.
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