Atlanta’s Asian American community mobilizes as investigation continues in spa shootings

Memorials continue to grow outside the Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road where four Asian American women were killed during a March 16 mass shooting. (Photos by Asep Mawardi)

As investigators continue to probe the motive behind the mass killing of eight people at spas in Atlanta and Cherokee County, the city’s Asian American community is mobilizing to fight a nationwide increase in violence and anti-Asian racism.

A #StopAsianHate March & Rally is set for Saturday, March 20, at 1 p.m. at Liberty Plaza next to the State Capitol in Downtown. Participants are being encouraged to wear masks and social distance in the event being shared on social media as an opportunity to “grieve, heal, and support.”

A new organization called the Atlanta Korean American Committee Against Hate Crimes was created less than 24 hours after the March 16 mass shootings and is made up of 20 Korean-American professional associations from around the metro area.

The committee has asked local law enforcement to step up patrols in neighborhoods with large Asian populations. A statement released by the organization rejected the killer’s confession that “sex addiction” was his motivation for gunning down eight, including six Asian American women.  “There is absolutely no way this was not a racially motivated killing against Asians,” the statement reads.

Flowers and tributes outside the Aromatherapy Spa.

The killer, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long from Woodstock, could face hate crime charges if investigators determine he targeted Asian workers at the spas. Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton Jr. confirmed Thursday that Long had been a frequent customer of the Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa on Piedmont Road.

APD spokesman Sgt. John Chaffee said in a statement that “the investigation remains open and we are looking at every angle of this case, including what motivated this individual to choose the locations and victims that he did.”

“The crime spree occurred in two different cities in the Atlanta area, and while the cases are linked by the same perpetrator, our investigations are independent of one another and there are different dynamics to each,” Chaffee said. “One of the differences is that all of the victims in the City of Atlanta were Asian females. While his motivation is important to know, we want to make it clear, there is no explanation that could justify these murders. Atlanta Police Homicide investigators remain hard at work, with the goal of successfully prosecuting the shooter, to hold him accountable for his actions. We want to ensure our communities that the Atlanta Police Department’s investigation is far from over and we want to stress that we have not ruled anything out.”

Earlier Thursday, Georgia’s Asian American Pacific Islander lawmakers held a press conference at the State Capitol and attributed the shootings to “racist political rhetoric and scapegoating” of Asian Americans since the pandemic began.

The lawmakers, which included Georgia House Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta), called for more gun safety legislation, better data collection about crimes against minority communities, increased awareness of discrimination against women and people of Asian descent, and better mental health services.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Asian American community leaders during a visit to Atlanta on Friday. Biden ordered flags to be lowered to half staff to honor the shooting victims.