Feeding the frenzy: the Atlanta murders and anti-Asian racism

Bam. Right out of the gate, national news media, advocacy groups, celebrities and politicians tied Tuesday night’s spa killings by Robert Aaron Long in Atlanta of seven women and one man, six of them of Asian descent, to anti-Asian racism.

“Call the Atlanta killings what they are: racial terrorism,” ran the Boston Globe headline on March 17.

“The killings of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, during a shooting spree in the Atlanta area yesterday have prompted a national outcry, and at a news conference today Biden noted a “very, very troubling” pattern of violence against Asian-Americans in recent months,” The New York Times reported.

The paper went on to cite statistics reported by Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit social organization that says it tracks incidents of discrimination, hate and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. “Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders were targeted in nearly 3,800 hate incidents reported over the past year, according to Stop AAPI Hate,” the paper said.

NBC news even reported Stop AAPI Hate’s numbers as fact on March 17, with absolutely no critical analysis. “There were 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, mostly against women, in past year,” ran the NBC headline.

Meanwhile, the left-leaning policy institute, the Center for American Progress, tried to tie the Atlanta killings to not only anti-Asian racism, but to white supremacy and misogny as well. “We…need to be unafraid and unflinching in calling Tuesday’s attack what it was: the result of anti-Asian racism, white supremacy, and misogyny, the Center said. “Anything less would be counterproductive in our fight to dismantle these systems of violence. Increased anti-Asian rhetoric and violence are a tragic reminder of the urgent need to dismantle white supremacy. #StopAsianHate

Others piled on:

  • Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms noted that the shootings follow a surge in racial violence against Asian Americans across the U.S. “It is unacceptable, it is hateful, and it has to stop,” she said.
  • Former President Donald Trump bears some responsibility for threats and violence against Asian Americans, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “There’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration…has elevated threats against Asian-Americans.”
  • “The reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy—for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community—which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination,”  Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate said in a statement.
  • Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a racial justice nonprofit, argued that Long was motivated by hate because he chose “targets owned by Asians.”
  • Bee Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia house of representatives, said”misogyny and xenophobia” prompted the shootings.
  • Olivia Munn, who recently called out the new Teen Vogue editor-in-chief for her past allegedly racist tweets against Asians, said she’s “struggling” with the latest act of violence. “We are being targeted, we are living in a country that is attacking us simply just for being us,” Munn said. 
  • One news outlet, NewsOne, even tied the resignation under pressure of Teen Vogue editor Alexi McCammond, 27, to the spa murders partly because she sent a derogatory tweet about an Asian teacher when in college. “The move comes as violence against AAPI communities has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, culminating in a targeted attack on Tuesday in Georgia where six Asian-American women were killed in massage parlors,” NewsOne, a Black-focused site, reported today.

There’s one problem. All the evidence, including statements by Long, indicates the shootings were not racially motivated.

“He (Long) apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” said Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Jay Baker.

But in the current frenzy over purported anti-Asian incidents in the United States, the temptation to tie the Atlanta shootings to anti-Asian racism has apparently been too tempting and the hook too easy.

Part of that is likely because it serves the agenda of some groups trying to draw attention to themselves. Part is probably because too much of the media is lazy, jumping on convenient connections to fill out a story and draw an audience.

And part, in this case, is probably because tying the shootings to anti-Asian racism caters to the predispositions of liberal audiences. They’re the ones now pushing to have the shootings called a hate crime, so they can push the Asian anti-racism connection harder, despite the evidence.

The reaction to the incident involving the Covington Catholic students near the Lincoln Memorial in January 2019 is a case in point of jumping to conclusions that satisfy presumptions.

Media outlets, celebrities and social media leaped on a viral videotaped encounter between a Native American man and high school boys that suggested a clash of racial and ideological differences. The initial media portrayal of the incident triggered outrage at the students in some quarters. The students received death threats and Covington Catholic High School temporarily closed due to fears for its students’ safety.

When more complete video footage emerged, it was clear that the students were not the aggressors in the incident. Reporting on the incident was so egregious that Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington student featured in most media coverage of the incident, filed lawsuits against CNN and The Washing ton Post. Both settled with Sandmann. The terms of the settlements were not disclosed.

All of this squanders the faith and trust of the general public. But in this age of preconceived notions and instant outrage it probably won’t stop.

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