A Georgia police officer is facing fierce backlash for his comments about a spa shooting spree that killed eight people, including six Asian women, after he said the murder suspect was having a “bad day.”
Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office made the remark during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after eight people were shot dead at three different spas in the Atlanta area.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been arrested in connection with the killings.
Officers on Wednesday relayed much of what the suspect allegedly told them after his arrest. They said he took responsibility for the killings, and that he was trying to eliminate “temptation” because he has a “sex addiction.” Police also recounted the suspect’s claims that his actions were not racially motivated, and they were reluctant to suggest otherwise.
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope,” Baker told reporters. “Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
The comment ignited fury on social media, where many accused police of downplaying anti-Asian violence.
“Since when is a bad day and a porn addiction an excuse to murder eight people?” Canadian actor Simu Liu tweeted. He also pointed out that all three spas were Asian-owned, and one was called Young Asian Massage. “We need to re-examine our legal definition of a hate crime because IT IS NOT WORKING FOR US.”
“All of us have experienced bad days,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, tweeted in response to Baker’s comments. “But we don’t go to three Asian businesses and shoot up Asian employees.”
Many others joined Lieu in condemning the incident under the hashtag #StopAsianHate.
“I ask everyone to remember that hurtful words and rhetoric have real life consequences,” Rep. Judy Chu, another California Democrat, tweeted on Wednesday.
Baker’s comments prompted critics to examine his Facebook page, where they found that he had previously shared photos of T-shirts with an anti-Asian slogan written on them.
A post from last April shows several T-shirts with “COVID-19” written on the front, along with a biohazard symbol and a smaller caption that reads “Imported virus from Chy-na.” The shirts used the same font and colour scheme of Corona beer, and appeared to echo former U.S. president Donald Trump‘s anti-China rhetoric about the virus.
Baker also posted about the shirts in March, The Washington Post reports. All of the posts have since been deleted.
Baker did not respond to various outlets’ requests for comments about his social media history, but Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds told The Daily Beast that he was not aware of Baker’s posts.
“I will have to contact him but thank you for bringing that to my attention,” he told the outlet.
The Asian-American community has been on high alert since the shootings, which comes amid a year-long surge in anti-Asian sentiment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, for example, an elderly Asian woman was allegedly punched in the face in an unprovoked attack in San Francisco.
Anti-Asian hate crime spiked by nearly 150 per cent in America’s 16 largest cities last year, even as overall cases fell by seven per cent, according to an analysis of police data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
The surge came as former president Trump frequently tried to deflect blame for the pandemic onto China in his last year in office, even as the U.S. became a global hotspot. Trump frequently used terms such as the “China virus,” the “Chinese virus” and the “Kung Flu,” even after critics denounced such terms as racist.
Researcher Karthick Ramakrishnan told NBC News that Trump is not solely responsible for the surge, but his rhetoric has likely helped fuel the spike.
“What Trump did is that he weaponized it in a way,” Ramakrishnan said. “Trump’s rhetoric helps set a certain narrative in place — and presidents have an outsized role in terms of shaping narrative. They don’t call it a bully pulpit for nothing, and especially Trump, the way he frequently used Twitter as well as press conferences and off-the-cuff remarks to campaign rallies to frame the narrative in a particular way, it likely played a role.”
Anti-Asian hate has also been growing in Canada. In Vancouver, for example, anti-Asian hate crimes spiked by 717 per cent over the last year, according to a report by the city’s police board.
Visible minorities in Canada have seen a perceived surge in harassment or attacks based on race since the pandemic began, according to a report from Statistics Canada last July. Perceived cases of harassment have tripled against minorities overall, with Chinese people facing the greatest surge, according to the data.
Sheriff Reynolds on Wednesday said it was too early to tell if the Atlanta-area shootings were racially motivated, “but the indicators right now are it may not be.”
“While the details of the shootings are still emerging, the broader context cannot be ignored,” Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta said in a statement. “The shootings happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fuelled by white supremacy and systemic racism.”
U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the attacks on Wednesday.
“We don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.”
Long faces eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the case.
His arraignment was scheduled for Thursday.
— With files from The Associated Press