Grief and outrage rages across country after white man murders eight people, including six Asian women

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Rebecca Gonzalez gathers with community members for a vigil to mourn and confront the rising violence against Asian Americans at the 10th Street Plaza, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Philadelphia. The vigil was held following a mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of them women of Asian decent. (Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP)

On Tuesday, a shooter murdered eight people, six of them Asian women, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors on a killing spree allegedly motivated by anti-Asian and misogynistic attitudes. 

Authorities who interviewed the suspect, now identified as 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, said they got the impression he was “at the end of his rope, and [Tuesday] was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” according to the Guardian. 

Long told police he had a “sex addiction,” and targeted businesses owned and known to employ Asians, specifically Asian women, some of whom work in the sex industry by providing erotic massages.  

Authorities said Long, who was charged on Wednesday with the killings, was “lashing out at what he saw as sources of temptation,” according to the Associated Press. Long reportedly said he needed to eliminate the desires fueling his addiction. Police recently discovered Long had been a patron of at least two of the spas.  

Sara Li, the politics contributor for Cosmopolitan, said Long’s sexual objectification of Asian women is nothing new in society and has led to damaging modern stereotypes and horrific incidents of violence.  

 “A huge factor in the fetishization of Asian women comes from the ‘submissive’ trope, stemming from the days when colonial soldiers would invade Asian territories and sexually prey upon the women there,” Li said. “Today, it manifests as the idea that Asian women are easily dominated, siren-like creatures of sexuality. As a result, Asian women are often the target of other people’s, oftentimes crude, projections.”  

On Twitter, Filipino Star News columnist and author Christine Liwag Dixon discussed how these attitudes have prevailed in her own life, from being harassed on the street to being subject to countless microaggressions.  

“The hypersexualizaton of Asian women plays a HUGE part in the violence we face,” Liwag Dixon said. “I’ve been cornered on the street as men say ‘me love you long time.’ I’ve been offered money for a ‘happy ending massage.’ I’ve been hit on because I’m Asian and told it’s a ‘compliment.”’ 

Liwag Dixon also connected real-life murders to the depiction of Asian women in Hollywood, who are seen as nothing more than an object or a sexual device, making them disposable or a target for the men who interact with them. 

“Asian women are so often seen and treated as objects, as trophies and this very real problem is often seen as a punchline i.e. jokes about mail order birds, the portrayal of Asian women in Hollywood,” Liwag Dixon said. “And Asian women are murdered because of it.” 

Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of several Asian organizations responsible for tracking and responding to incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, found there was a rise in hate incidents from March 19 of last year to Feb. 28 of this year, and found close to 3,800 incidents had been reported to their center during that time. 

Women had reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, and businesses were found to be the primary site of discrimination (35.4% of all incidents).  

Chinese people were among the largest ethnic group (42.2%) who reported their negative experiences, which has been suggested to be a result of Asian-American mockery and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, such as when former president Donald Trump and members of his administration referred to the virus as the “Chinese Virus” and called it the “Kung-Flu,” according to a former White House staffer. 

While youths have reported the greatest amount of incidents, Asian American communities have been frightened by a wave of attacks on elderly members. In February, a 64-year-old was assaulted and robbed. A 91-year-old man was hospitalized after being shoved to the ground. In January, a 52-year-old Asian-American woman was shot in the head with a flare gun, and an 84-year-old man died after being smashed to the ground by a man who ran up behind him.  

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