1 of 16 Jessica Lang pauses and places her hand on the door in a moment of grief after dropping off flowers with her daughter Summer at Youngs Asian Massage parlor where four people were killed.
Kai Wright: It's The Takeaway. I'm Kai Wright, host of The United States of Anxiety, a podcast from WNYC. I'm in for Tanzina Vega who'll be back tomorrow. Glad you're with us today.
Violence in Georgia is where we begin. On Tuesday, a 21-year-old white gunman went on a rampage in three spas in Atlanta, killing at least eight people, including six women of Asian descent.
Captain Jay Baker: The suspect did take responsibility for the shootings. He said that early on once we began the interviews with him. He claims that these, and as the chief said, this is still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated.
Kai Wright: Not racially motivated, the response of the Cherokee County Sheriff's office immediately drew backlash from around the country. When the spokesperson repeated the shooter's claim that he was motivated by a "sex addiction", and said that he was--
Captain Jay Baker: "Kind of at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did."
Kai Wright: A bad day. Many were reminded of the empathetic treatment previous white perpetrators of racial violence have received from police departments. The shooting was particularly painful for Asian-American communities, which have been facing hate crimes all across the country during the pandemic. A report by the nonprofit coalition 'Stop AAPI Hate' show that almost 4,000 hate crimes have taken place since last March in all 50 States.
Another study by California State University, San Bernardino showed a 150% increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans in some of the largest US cities from 2019 to 2020. All while, overall, hate crime numbers have dropped in the same timeframe.
Joining us with the latest from Georgia is Ellen Eldridge, healthcare reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting. She's been covering the shooting in Atlanta. Ellen, welcome to The Takeaway.
Ellen Eldridge: Hi, thanks for having me.
Kai Wright: Also joining us to talk about how this relates to racialized sexism that Asian-American women face is Vivian Ho, California reporter for The Guardian. Vivian, thanks for coming on the show.
Vivian Ho: Thank you for having me.
Kai Wright: Ellen, can we just get the latest on this story?
Ellen Eldridge: The latest update, obviously, the suspect is in custody, he's in the Cherokee County Jail. There was some mention of an arraignment this morning, but I called the courthouse and arraignment was never actually scheduled and there is no first appearance or anything on the docket for him currently. He's just in jail.
Kai Wright: How has this landed, particularly in the Asian-American community in the Atlanta area, I've seen reports of vigils outside some of the spas, how is this landing?
Ellen Eldridge: That's correct. The community at large sees this as a hate crime that the suspect targeted women of Asian descent, purposefully went to those types of parlors. It's all over social media, as you've seen that this is horrific.
Kai Wright: What about the white community, particularly there in Cherokee County, where we heard from the police department, and what has been the response there?
Ellen Eldridge: The Sheriff's office certainly is taking a lot of criticism right now. They've, as of this morning, took down the Sheriff's Office Facebook page, the spokesman Captain Jay Baker, a man that I've worked with as a journalist for the past few years, he made the comments about a bad day that's really gone viral.
Some people in the community are trying to say that the shooter's actions were based on a sex addiction, but overall, I think that the majority of the people really feel like this is hate and race-based, and that best-case scenario, the spokesman was just trying to maybe relate what the killer had said when he confessed if that makes sense.
Kai Wright: Vivian, what about you? How did this land particularly thinking about that police response and the sex addiction piece of it? How did that land for you?
Vivian Ho: I think when you talk about things in terms of a sex addiction and how it's not racially motivated, according to the killer, I think we need to take things in context of how the fetishization of Asian women and the hypersexualization of Asian women is in itself racist. Nobody is acknowledging that. That fetishization of Asian women and the hypersexualization of Asian women has created a market in which Asian women are forced to work as sex workers, and fill these roles and essentially step into these roles and do this work and do this and put themselves in really dangerous situations and basically put themselves in a lot of danger.
Kai Wright: What about in Asian-American communities around the country? It's been a tough year and this just feels like it's such a dramatic addition to what we've been seeing. What have you been hearing in terms of how this has landed in communities?
Vivian Ho: I think the term I was hearing was really like, "What does it feel like to be gutted when you no longer have guts to be gutted?" That's how it feels like. It was almost like this was almost expected, an escalation of sorts because everyone has been saying this for years. This didn't start with the pandemic, this didn't start with the Trump administration. Everyone knew anti-Asian hate was there. Everyone knew it was there because nobody was really paying attention until just now.
Kai Wright: Why do you think that is? How has it felt in terms of why people haven't been able to-- If you feel like, hey, this has been clearly coming and others haven't seen it coming, what do you think that's about?
Vivian Ho: There's just been a longstanding erasure of the Asian American experience. Look at it now, there's almost this mental gymnastics that happens when it comes to the discrimination that Asian Americans face. Like right now, when it's like, "Oh, it's not racially motivated". It's quite clearly-- This man went to three Asian-owned businesses resulting in the deaths of six Asian women. He didn't target other establishments that were not Asian-owned.
He clearly went to three Asian-owned businesses and we're going to say it's not racially motivated. It's one of those situations where it's like, "We're just going to pretend race has nothing to do with it." At what points does our experience not matter?
Kai Wright: Ellen, what about in Atlanta prior to the shooting? What has been the relationship between the Asian American community and the rest of the city and the rest of the area before this shooting, was this something that people felt like they saw coming there as well?
Ellen Eldridge: I feel like what I'm hearing from the Asian community now, and some human rights activists is that there has been an underlying issue of racism, not only against Asian-Americans, but other communities of color. I know that several of our senators and representatives yesterday throughout the day have cited the statistic that since the beginning of the pandemic, fueled by the former president's comments, Asian-American violence it's more than doubled, like 150%.
In fact, in my reporting, I spoke with the human rights activist Kenyette Tisha Barnes, and she described this as-- She said, "What we need to do is really unpack the intersection of racism and violence in racial eroticism." Just like Vivian was saying, there's a lot going on here.
Kai Wright: In terms of the response as a hate crime, the law enforcement response, Georgia just passed a hate crimes bill last year. How would it affect this case if it was indeed ruled a hate crime?
Ellen Eldridge: That's right. Our hate crimes law was nearly 16 years in the making. Though the suspect has not yet been charged with a hate crime, if he were, it would definitely mean tougher penalties because it's believed that he targeted people based on their race and gender, possibly.
Kai Wright: Is gender included in that hate crime law?
Ellen Eldridge: It is, yes, race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin.
Kai Wright: Vivian, what about hate crime law as a response to this? What is a good solution to this? It's not just this particular act here in Atlanta as we've said, but all around the country we've been seeing this. Is hate crime law the answer or something else? How do we deal with this?
Vivian Ho: That's what's so frustrating about this. Hate crime law, it's almost a band-aid. Because hate crime law is just so hard to prove. You can't just prove that someone stole a sandwich, you have to prove that they stole a sandwich because they were hungry. It's so difficult.
To go that extra step to prove what their motive was, prosecutors and authorities are just so unwilling to do that. We have situations like we're seeing now where in the San Francisco Bay Area, we're seeing a lot of Asian neighborhoods, a lot of Chinatowns where populations are targeted for robberies, burglaries, and assaults. It's quite clear that they very much are being targeted, but are they being targeted because they're Asian? No, but they are being targeted most likely because they're easy targets. Does it feel that it's because they're Asian? No, but they're still being targeted. [crosstalk]
Kai Wright: Where do we turn?
Vivian Ho: Yes, exactly. What is the solution then? What is the solution?
Kai Wright: Ellen, what about in Atlanta? Does it feel like hate crime law? Does the community say, "Yes, what we really wanted was hate crime law and that's going to resolve it," or are there other ideas on the table?
Ellen Eldridge: The idea of resolving the underlying issues of racism in America is far more nuanced than a simple law. I feel like with the passage of Georgia's hate crime law last year, I think it was over the summer in 2020 that our governor signed it, it's a step forward. I believe this may be the first instance where that charge could be applied to a crime and I'm definitely eager to watch what unfolds and see whether this man is charged with a hate crime.
Kai Wright: How's the media done, Vivian, in covering this story, not just this story, but the trend of these attacks over the past year?
Vivian Ho: I think in the recent months, the media has really stepped up a little bit and really started paying more attention, but I will say I was pretty displeased in the first night of the shootings when nobody mentioned that these were Asian-owned businesses.
I understand the need for caution when it comes to breaking news and I know we can't say it was hate-related or racially motivated immediately because we don't know what the shooter's motive is in the first night, but we can say definitively that these were Asian-owned businesses, that the shooter went to three Asian-owned businesses. That's important and that's significant.
Kai Wright: Ellen Eldrige is a healthcare reporter at Georgia Public Broadcasting and Vivian Ho is California reporter for the Guardian. Thanks to both of you for helping us cover this difficult and still unfolding story.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.