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Illustration by Security Management

Motives For Atlanta Area Spa Shootings Remain Unconfirmed

In the early evening of 16 March, eight people were killed and one left wounded during shootings at three different spas in the Atlanta Metropolitan area in Georgia.   

Robert Aaron Long, 21, who was captured by area police after a car chase, is facing four charges of murder and one count of aggravated assault for the shootings. According to The Washington Post, his first court appearance was canceled on 18 March, when he waived it in writing through his attorney.  

Daoyou Feng, 44; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Tan, 49; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, were killed in the attack on Young's Asian Massage, and Elcias R. Hernandez, 30, was injured. Authorities have not released the names of the other victims, but did confirm that six of the total victims were Asianwith four of them of Korean descent.  

Long allegedly told investigators that this was not a hate crime and that he suffers from a sex addiction; however, the American Psychiatric Association did not include “sex addiction,” or Hypersexual Behavior Disorder, in the latest edition of Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-V). 

The spas—Young’s Asian Massage Parlor, Aroma Therapy Spa, and Gold Spa—were viewed by Long, who was arrested in possession of a handgun, as a “temptation” that he wanted to remove, according to Atlanta Police.

Atlanta Police said that the motive for the shooting is still unclear and have not announced that it was racially motivated. But Cherokee County Sheriff’s Captain Jay Barker’s comments that Long’s actions were the result of “a bad day have been met with criticism and backlash.  

“Around Atlanta and throughout the country, officials and community leaders said it could not be ignored that most of those killed in the rampage had been of Asian descent,” The New York Times wrote. And the shooting renews concerns of an increase in violence and harassment that has targeted Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Stop AAPI Hate’s 2021 National Report, which analyzed reported incidents of hate against AAPI between 19 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, noted that in 2019 the organization received 2,808 reports, increasing to 3,292 reports in 2020. By the time the report was released, Stop AAPI Hate had received 503 reports of incidents taking place in 2021. Incidents during the report’s time frame included verbal harassment (68.1 percent), shunning (20.5 percent), physical assault (11.1 percent), civil rights violations (8.5 percent), and online harassment (6.8 percent). The coalition was founded by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University to address anti-Asian discrimination amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less than a week before the shootings, NPR reported that such attacks and harassment against the AAPI community have likely been underreported “due to a combination of several factors, ranging from language and cultural barriers to a lack of trust in law enforcement.”  

“What we’ve discovered isn’t that we've just had a spike, but we’ve had a surge over the entire year last year with COVID-19 and with [then-President Donald Trump’s] political rhetoric," Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American Studies for San Francisco State University, told NPR on its segment, All Things Considered.  

In mid-March of 2020, the Asian American Journalists Association noted that language linking the pandemic to AAPIsuch as “Wuhan virus,” “China coronavirus,” or “Chinese coronavirus”likely “stigmatize populations associated with those places.” And given the data that has come out since then, there seems to be some correlation.  

Hate crimes against AAPI rose an estimated 149 percent in 16 of the largest U.S. cities during 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. 

“Data further indicated that this rise occurred amidst an overall decline in hate crime likely caused by a lack of interaction at frequent gathering places [like] transit, commercial businesses, schools, events, and houses of worship,” according to the center.

Further complicating the extraction of a clear motive for the Atlanta shootings is that six of the victims were women 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the average U.S. male’s preferred sex symbol was the blonde bombshell iconized by Marilyn Monroe. Recent decades have seen a shift, with reports indicating that stereotypes of Asian women—portraying them as exoticized, hypersexualized, and submissive. This has resulted in a fetish linked to “staggering rates of violence, where Asian women are objectified to the point they become non-persons.  

“The everyday racism and sexism against Asian women yields deadly results, as this dehumanization creates a climate that makes violence excusable: 41 to 61 percent of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. This is significantly higher than any other ethnic group,” the National Network to End Domestic Violence wrote back in 2016.  

More recently, according to the Stop AAPI Hate report, AAPI women reported incidents of harassment or assault 2.3 times as often as men.  

Given the targets in this latest shooting, The Guardian wrote that some experts find it “absurd to exclude discussion of anti-sex-work sentiment from the conversation about these most recent attacks on the Asian community. And especially when considering Long’s statement of removing a “temptation,” “advocates say this reveals the way racism, sexism, and anti-sex-worker sentiment work together to produce anti-Asian violence.”  

Nancy Wang Yuenauthor of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, noted in an article for NBC News that beyond her firsthand experiences with such harassment, attacks on Asian and AAPI women are nothing new.

Asian women, along with Black and Indigenous women and other women of color, endure racism and sexism in intersectional ways constantly, and they have throughout history,” Yuen said.  

Organizations considering how to keep their employees safer against incidents of gun violence in the workplace can read the ASIS International report, Preventing Gun Violence in the Workplace, as well as additional resources on the associationss Soft Target & Active Shooter page and the recently revised version of the ASIS Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard.