Remembering the Atlanta Spa Shootings

Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Daoyou Feng, 44, Xiaojie Tan, 49, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Yong Ae Yue, 63, Suncha Kim, 69, and Soon Chung Park, 74 all lost their lives from the Atlanta Spa shootings. This article will commemorate the lives that were tragically taken last year and reach talks of gun restriction amidst the trend of mass shootings in the United States.

Context  

On March 16, 2021, the United States experienced yet another hate crime incited by a white man, Robert Aaron Long. Six of the eight victims above were Asian women.  

This shooting was not an isolated incident. It was not a mere coincidence that the victims of this attack were Asian. This attack was a part of a series of anti-Asian and Pacific Islander shootings and hate crimes. There were two shootings, both of which took place in the Atlanta area and on the same day. The first shooting occurred at Young’s Asian Massage near Acworth, Georgia. Robert Aaron Long went to the bathroom of that parlor. When he came back, gunshots were fired, killing two and critically wounding three (two of which would later die).  

Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, the only survivor of this attack, recounted that tragic day, “When I heard the first few shots rang out, I opened the door of the room and when I saw him face-to-face, I threw myself on the floor and asked him not to shoot me. He told me to look up at him and when I looked up at him, that’s when he shot me in the face.  

The murderer did not stop there. 

Shortly after the events unfolded in Acworth, there was a robbery at Gold Massage Spa in northeast Atlanta, nearly 30 miles from the previous incident. Three women died from gunshot wounds at this location. Others who were in a break room were shot at but survived. And across the street, another victim lost their life.  

When Robert Long was apprehended by law enforcement, Captain Jay Baker told the media that “He (Long) apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate”. Long reduced the lives of those Asian women to nothing more than a temptation that needed to be eradicated. It is clear that his actions were racially motivated. 

Sexualized Racism 

Annie King, an active student at the University of Louisville and a member of the Asian Pacific Student Union stated that the moment the words ‘sex’ and ‘Asian woman’” appeared in article headings, those mothers, grandmothers, human beings lost to a gunman, ceased to be human. They instead became expendable and invisible “lotus blossoms”. King explored the idea that this act of violence was fueled by sexualized racism rather than a racial agenda targeting a specific group of individuals. What the killer said proved this. He stated that “I am going to kill all Asians,” “It was to alleviate my sex addiction,” or “It had nothing to do with race”.  

Lily Stewart, the secretary of the Asian Pacific Student Union at UofL stated that “Hyper-sexualized tropes inflicted upon Asian women, both consciously and subconsciously, ultimately delineate us expendable . . . For Asian American women, race is always gendered, and gender is always racialized. Together, they synergize to perpetuate racially gendered oppression and violence pervasive our livelihoods and identities.” It is no secret that this problem goes unnoticed in America. This terroristic act that was incited by Long further proves it. His motive is clear. 

Hate Crime Toward Minorities in America is Nothing New 

The great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”. Part of being a humanitarian is the moral obligation to stand up against injustice. And I believe that as human beings, we are all humanitarians and must not turn a blind eye toward injustice as our predecessors have in the past. 

I could host a lecture that would list all of the injustices that white America has done to minorities living in this country. The red summer of 1919  saw a rise of white supremacy and terrorism against Black people in the United States with hundreds dying and thousands of families left destabilized and disenfranchised for generations to come. The 1921 Tulsa Massacre is another example of white supremacist violence, where more than a thousand lives, homes, and Black businesses were burned to the ground. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 passed by Congress implemented a 10-year ban on Chinese workers who sought to immigrate to the U.S., higher restrictions on those who were already living in the U.S. by refusing to grant them citizenship, and even U.S. citizens of Chinese descent could face deportation. Even when the act expired after 10 years, Congress extended this injustice by passing the Geary Act in 1902, which added extra requirements for Chinese residents to register and obtain certificates of residence  — something that immigrants from Europe did not have to do. 

Perhaps the gravest injustice that the American government has committed against the Asian American community would be the so-called internment camps of the Second World War. As America was fighting Japan in the Pacific theater, distrust and animosity grew toward people of Japanese descent and Asians in general on the west coast of the U.S. American officials believed that there were spies living among the population. To combat this, the American government had a provision in the executive order which would require Japanese-Americans to renounce their allegiance to their homeland and the Japanese emperor.  

This was met with swift opposition as many felt that they were disrespected by the U.S. government and even demanded to be willingly deported back to Japan.  To protect the “interests of the public,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order 9066 mandating the transfer of any person of Japanese descent on the West Coast to internment camps. In these concentration camps, people lived in tight cell blocks, faced inhumane conditions, and were often not fed. This abuse of human rights would be challenged in the infamous court case, Korematsu v. United States. The Supreme Court of the United States, supposedly the last resort for a remedy against constitutional implications, ruled against Korematsu and sustained the internment of every Japanese-American in those camps. It would not be until 2017, that the court officially overruled Korematsu in Trump v. Hawaii

This indicates that historical injustices against the Asian community and other minority groups in America sometimes go unacknowledged until years later as a way of making up for “past sins.” This is a recurring topic throughout recent history. Isn’t it past time for a paradigm shift? Aren’t we sick of witnessing injustice go unpunished simply because a particular conduct was “technically legal”? 

Gun Control  

The Atlanta spa shooter legally purchased a handgun and ammunition at a local firearm store in Georgia. Like many southern states, Georgia does not have a waiting period to use a gun, nor is an individual required to have a license to possess a firearm in the state. Because the killer passed the background check, within minutes he was able to use that gun per Georgia’s law.  

Is it time to begin implementing stricter gun control measures into American policies? How many lives must be taken before the state legislatures and the American Congress create meaningful legislation to end racially motivated gun violence? I am not advocating to strip you of your constitutional liberty to bear arms. I am arguing for stronger gun regulations in areas that have high concentrations of gun violence which result in mass shootings. The Pew Research Center surveyed U.S. adults on gun restrictions and the results were that the share of Americans who say gun laws in the U.S. should be made stricter has increased from 52% in 2017 to 60% in 2019. And those who believe that gun laws should be less restricted dropped from 18% in 2017 to 11% two years later. Improving gun laws in America could be the deciding factor in whether a student at your local high school comes back home safe or they become another statistic of students who died in school shootings because people have relatively easy access to guns.  

APSU and the LPR 

On behalf of the Louisville Political Review, I would like to thank my peers at the University of Louisville’s Asian Pacific Student Union for their collaborative efforts that were put into this article.  

The Asian Pacific Student Union strives to give AAPI students a strong campus presence and sense of community by celebrating cultural identities while advocating and educating on AAPI-related issues. The members of APSU planned this candlelight vigil to honor the lives of those lost to anti-AAPI hate crimes and to educate the UofL community on these social justice issues that often go unnoticed. 

I am honored to have been invited to be a part of such an event. I was moved by the compassion that was on display that night from the audience to all the speakers and it has compelled me to write this article in honor of all the lives that were tragically taken last year in Atlanta. Before I conclude, I will list all of the victims that lost their lives on that devastating day one last time.  

Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33 | Daoyou Feng, 44 | Xiaojie Tan, 49 | Hyun Jung Grant, 51 | Paul Andre Michels, 54 | Yong Ae Yue, 63 | Suncha Kim, 69 | Soon Chung Park, 74 

Published by Daniel Ngongo

Daniel Ngongo is a student at the University of Louisville double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy with a track in Law and Public Policy and Social Sciences. Areas of interest for Daniel are jurisprudence, human rights, climate change, political theory, and metaphysics.

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