US President Joe Biden decried the wave of “brutality” against Asian-Americans on Wednesday, following mass shootings in Georgia Tuesday night that left eight people dead, six of them reportedly Asian women.
“I know that Asian-Americans are very concerned,” Biden said at the White House ahead of a virtual meeting with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin. “As you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s very, very troublesome.”
The attacks were on three separate massage parlours in the Atlanta area; in addition to the dead, another person was injured. The 21-year-old suspect, Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, was apprehended en route to Florida, where he planned to carry out further attacks, police said.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
While he also cautioned that the “question of motivation is still to be determined”, Biden’s comments came amid a national outcry of horror, revulsion and condemnation. Calling the shootings “tragic”, Vice-President Kamala Harris said the administration understood “how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people”.
“But knowing the increasing level of hate crimes against our Asian-American brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them,” Harris, who is the first Asian-American and woman to serve as vice-president, added.
Long has been charged with eight counts of murder for the attacks, the first of which occurred in Acworth, Georgia, a Cherokee County suburb of Atlanta. The other two took place at spas in Atlanta. He is scheduled for arraignment on Thursday.
During a news conference on Wednesday, law enforcement officials said that Long had confessed to carrying out the attacks. They also said that Long had denied any racist motivation, instead claiming to have a sexual addiction and saying that he wanted to “eliminate” sources of temptation.
Long had “frequented these places in the past, and may have been lashing out”, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said.
That explanation prompted anger from activists and other members of the Asian-American community on Wednesday, many of whom argued that race was an inextricable component of the sexualisation and fetishisation of Asian women.
“The fact he sees ASIAN WOMEN as ‘temptations’ for his sex addiction is racial motivation,” comedian Hari Kondabolu wrote on Twitter. “Not seeing this as racist IS racist.”
The author Celeste Ng said: “General rule: people don’t get to decide whether they are racist; other people decide this based on their actions.”
Authorities came under further scrutiny for one official’s remarks that the suspect had “a really bad day” on Tuesday. “He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope,” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County sheriff’s officer said, prompting longstanding criticisms in the US that white perpetrators of violence are often afforded empathy denied to those of colour.
The attacks came amid a nationwide spike in violence and discrimination against Asian-Americans, attacks that community activists say have been fuelled in the past year by political rhetoric concerning the coronavirus pandemic because the first outbreak occurred in Wuhan, China.
“This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain that the Asian-American community continues to endure,” Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian-American advocacy organisations, said. (AAPI is short for Asian-American and Pacific Islanders.) The group has documented around 3,800 reports of hate incidents against Asian-Americans over the past year.
Four of those killed on Tuesday were of Korean descent, according to the South Korean foreign ministry, citing communications with police.
Speaking in Seoul on Wednesday during an Indo-Pacific tour, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US was “horrified by this violence” and offered “deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who died and to everyone in the Korean community who is shaken and deeply disturbed by this incident.”
A partial list of victims’ names released by police on Wednesday suggested that at least two of those killed were of Chinese descent.
Officials said they were continuing to investigate whether the shootings constituted hate crimes. Local Korean news outlets in Atlanta reported that a witness had heard the suspect say he would “kill all Asians”.
A spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department declined to comment on that report, or whether other witnesses had given similar accounts.
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference. “We also know that this is an issue that’s happening across the country.
“It is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”
Officials would not discuss whether the targeted massage parlours were places where sex work occurred. Bottoms responded to one such question: “We are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here.”
As well as issues around racism, Tuesday’s killings have also reignited a national debate on gun control, with former president Barack Obama tweeting that the shooting was “another tragic reminder that we have far more work to do to put in place commonsense gun safety laws”.
Long carried out the attack – the country’s sixth mass killing – in 2021, according to a count by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University – just hours after buying the gun used in the shooting, officials said on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s attack was a manifestation of multiple crises that the US has failed to address for generations, said Lucy Lang, a candidate for Manhattan district attorney in New York City: “Hate crimes against Asian-American communities, white supremacy, misogyny and the gun violence epidemic that costs thousands of American lives a year.”
More from South China Morning Post:
This article Joe Biden denounces ‘brutality’ against Asian-Americans after Atlanta spa shootings first appeared on South China Morning Post