Robert Aaron Long, Atlanta mass-killer. Photo: YouTube screen.
We are stunned and saddened by the horrific violence in Atlanta and at the ongoing hate and violence targeting the AAPI community. This mass shooting in Atlanta needs to be thoroughly investigated, including the possible motives for this heinous attack. A police officer with a record of sharing anti-Asian hate on Facebook promoted the shooter’s story that he merely had a “bad day.” His shocking statement, which sounded like he was a spokesperson for the shooter, not the police department, should not be the last word on whether this was a hate crime.
We are also simply shocked that FBI Director Wray would prematurely send a signal that the FBI has come to the conclusion that this crime was not motivated by hate when the investigation has only just begun, particularly when his own statement focuses on race and fails to recognize gender-motivated hate. Director Wray’s ignorance underscores the lack of understanding by even the highest law enforcement officials of the nature and scope of hate crimes. More must be done by federal and local officials to educate and train law enforcement officials at all levels.
In 2019, I sat directly behind Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha as he told members of Congress about how his two daughters and son-in-law were murdered by a man motivated by hate. I saw the heartbreak and fear that he and the Muslim community experienced when police dismissed the deaths as the result of a mere parking dispute. We cannot repeat that history in Atlanta.
There are so many factors at play in Atlanta, but they all in some way revolve around the victims’ identities as Asian women. We are currently seeing a continuing, nationwide wave of anti-Asian hate—stemming, in part, from anti-Asian COVID-19 rhetoric. However, this hate has its roots in a long and troubling history of scapegoating and inciting violence against Asian Americans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans. Further, we must acknowledge the victims and consider why Asian women doing these jobs were targeted and why Asian women in general have been targeted by hate.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, nearly two-thirds of anti-Asian hate incidents in the last year involved women. It is simply reckless to ignore these facts and chalk these murders up to one man having a “really bad day.’”
We call on federal, state and local law enforcement to fully investigate this attack, including all the factors that led to this tragedy. We also call on the media to not accept the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office’s story at face value and instead speak with Atlanta’s Asian American community and specifically the women who are a part of it.
Farhana Khera is Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks.