What the Atlanta spa shootings reveal about America

The Atlanta spa shootings are the latest example of a blatant hate crime targeting Asian-Americans. Over the course of one year, beginning in March, 2020, nearly 3,800 racially charged attacks against Asians have been recorded in the United States (US). The Atlanta shootings, allegedly helmed by 21-year old Robert Aaron Long, occurred at three different spas, leaving eight people dead. While the motive behind the onslaught is still under investigation, it is no coincidence that attacks like these stem from sheer hate, particularly for a targeted race. Although the suspect denounced the nature of the attacks, claiming that they were not racially motivated, the majority of victims shot down were of Asian descent.

The attacks have been strongly condemned by President joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Many American celebrities also voiced their support for Asian-Americans with the hashtag #StopAsianHate making the rounds on social media.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a meeting to highlight the significant rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. In a press release, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerrold Nadler said,

“There has been a long history of anti-Asian racism in the United States, especially during times of social or economic unrest. Unfortunately, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this bigotry has reared its ugly head once again.”

Senator Chuck Schumer also shared his views on the matter, claiming that there is “legitimate concern that these killings may have been racially motivated,” adding that there is bigotry in the land, and far too much of it.

The former Donald Trump administration enabled racism like never before in the US. In addition to disinformation and racist rhetoric surrounding Covid-19, Trump indirectly triggered his supporters to carry out verbal and physical attacks on Asian-Americans. As a leader, his words shaped a negative, misinformed perception about Asians, with many supporters toeing Trump’s line.

Having lost the 2020 election cycle, Trump supporters felt enraged. Biden’s clear win incentivised them to storm the Capitol Hill in early January to contest the outcome of the elections. Trump’s constant enabling could very well be a driving factor as to why the US is seeing an upward trend in anti-Asian attacks. With Trump out of office, the Biden-Harris administration is met with the challenge to unite a deeply polarised America while championing reforms for underrepresented ethnic groups marred by racial violence. The pandemic has already exposed ethnic prejudices and racial divides across the US.

Regarding the reasons behind the Atlanta spa attacks, it is imperative to dissect the psychology of the perpetrator. Mental disorders and obsessive tendencies, for instance sex addiction in Robert Aaron Long’s case, offers more nuance with regards to the motives of the massacre. Hence, ruling out the attacks strictly on the basis of racism is slightly far-fetched. Perhaps the perpetrator’s sex addiction was a primary trigger that resulted in all three attacks in Atlanta. It could also be a mix of both racial sentiments coupled with sex addiction.

The perpetrators of violence, who have previously targeted other marginalised groups such as children (on the Sandy Hook Shootings) and homosexuals (in the Orlando Massacre), are now actively focused on Asian-Americans, and it is a call for concern. It is incidents such as the Atlanta spa shootings that can inspire criminals to potentially carry out violent attacks in the near future.

The US already saw 578 mass shootings occur last year, even despite the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Hence, it is high time that gun control is actually put into effect. It is critical for both Democrats and Republicans to find common ground on gun control in an effort to prevent mass shootings going forward. It is equally important for them to not politicise racist attacks. The constant blame game on either side needs to end if issues concerning race are to be resolved. The Atlanta shootings demand a thorough investigation, bipartisan leadership and strict action against the perpetrator. The latter factor could help establish the outcome of a racially charged incident, which could discourage people from committing hate crimes in the future.