Anger mounts as police cover for Atlanta murderer of Asian women
After dropping off flowers, Jesus Estrella, left, and Shelby stand in support of the Asian and Latino community outside Young's Asian Massage, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Acworth, Ga. Asian Americans, already worn down by a year of racist attacks fueled by the pandemic and Republican political rhetoric about the 'China virus,' are reeling. | Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Only two days before the Atlanta-area murders of eight people, including six Asian American women, Georgia State Sen. Michelle Au, herself Chinese American, was warning of rising anti-Asian violence in her state and nationwide. “Asian Americans are part of our country’s plurality,” said Au. “And all I’m asking, as the first East Asian state senator in Georgia, is to fully consider us as part of our communities. We need help, we need protection, and we need people in power to stand up for us against hate.”

Forty-eight hours later, killings took place at three Asian American-owned spas. The murders—and the police handling of them—have sent a combination of fear and outrage throughout the Asian American community.

“We grieve for the eight workers who were killed in Atlanta. Many of them were the aunties and immigrant women in our communities who face immense barriers to finding work and supporting their families,” said Monica Thammarath, president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO.

Over 3,800 hate crimes were committed against Asian American/Pacific Islanders last year, an exponential surge of 150% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hate crimes have been fueled by Trump’s racist scapegoating of China for the pandemic and the rising threat of white supremacist and fascist militias culminating in the violent failed coup of Jan. 6.

“It all coincides with the rhetoric of the Republican Party using terms like ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung flu,’ said Morning Hangover publisher Kurt Bardella. “Last fall, 164 Republicans voted against a resolution by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., to simply condemn anti-Asian violence. I’m sick of going around with a target on my back put there by one of the two major parties.”

The local Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department immediately shaped a narrative that sought to obscure the white supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia behind the horrific crime. They insisted it was too early to label the murders a hate crime. Instead, they said, the shooter “had a bad day” and quoted him saying the killings “were not racially” motivated. He reportedly justified his actions by claiming he was dealing with a “sex addiction” and that the spas were a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.”

However, sheriffs didn’t share accounts of witnesses who reported the murderer yelled out, “I am going to kill all the Asians,” as he carried out his vile crimes.

California State Assemblymember Evan Low, a prominent Chinese American political leader nationally and member of his legislature’s Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus and its LGBT Caucus, asked in a public post Thursday morning, “Why does law enforcement give a confessed murderer (i.e. a white domestic terrorist) a platform to say he only killed because he was having ‘a really bad day’? Why does a white man’s bad day so often end in killing or attacking a person of color?”

Continuing to criticize the way local police have handled the case so far, Low asked, “Why does law enforcement give a white man who murders innocent people—with an emphasis on targeting Asian American women—the chance to tell his story before the victims’ stories are told?”

The murders illustrate the urgent need to confront the long history of anti-Asian American/Pacific Islander racism deeply embedded in U.S. society. The legacy of African American slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, and anti-AAPI racism are all linked. The fall of Reconstruction in the years after the U.S. Civil War unleashed a tidal wave of white supremacist violence, lynchings, and oppression.

One of the earliest restrictive immigration laws passed by the U.S. Congress, the Page Act of 1875, targeted immigrant women from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country,” on the grounds that they were entering the United States for what the bill called “lewd and immoral purposes.” Racism, sexual objectification, and xenophobia were all intertwined in the law.

Shortly after, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented immigration and denied naturalization and citizenship rights for persons of Chinese background born in the U.S. in violation of the 14th Amendment, an egregious injustice finally struck down in 1898 in a landmark ruling.

The scapegoating of Chinese Americans sparked an era of violent massacres, lynchings, and destruction of Asian American communities. The legal discrimination against Asian workers was used to foster divisions in the labor movement. Congress finally repealed the Act in 1943 in order to solidify the World War II alliance with China against Japan. The right to become naturalized citizens was finally adopted, although immigration remained severely restricted.

“I think about the violence and brutality against Chinese railroad workers. Our country implemented an immigrant exclusion act that started with Chinese workers then extended it to all Asians,” said Georgia State Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is also an IBEW member. “Our country incarcerated Japanese Americans (during WWII). There’s a long history of anti-Asian violence and it’s been erased.”

Seventy percent of anti-Asian hate crimes are committed against women. “This Atlanta tragedy lies at an intersection of race, gender, class, and the legacy of America’s history of colonization and violence in Asia,” tweeted Ted Talk host Elise Hu.

A demonstrator participates at a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, March 13, 2021. | Damian Dovarganes / AP

Also, AAPI women face an epidemic of domestic violence. Many work in low-wage and vulnerable jobs without protection and are victims of sex trafficking, exploitation, violence, and brutality. Racist and misogynistic stereotypes dehumanize and degrade Asian women, and the Atlanta killings reflect the intersection of racialized and sexualized violence.

The history of racism and misogyny against AAPI women also goes back to those early immigration restrictions of the late 19th century. Add the crimes committed in the course of U.S. military aggression against Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, the Philippines, the occupation of Japan, and colonizing such Pacific regions as Guam, Samoa, the Marianas, and of course Hawaii starting in the 19th century. U.S. military personnel have a history of committing acts of sexual violence and murdering women around U.S. military bases across Asia—something that still occurs today.

President Joe Biden denounced the rise in anti-AAPI violence during his Mar. 11 speech marking the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Too often, we’ve turned against one another,” said Biden. Americans should be united against the pandemic, he said, but instead, there have been “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who’ve been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated.

“At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives and still—still—are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”

The long U.S. history of legalized discrimination and racist scapegoating stands at odds with Biden’s words, however, proving the need for concrete action to deal with the problems that fueled this latest incident.

The anti-AAPI hate crimes also expose a sliver of horrible social and economic conditions faced by AAPI communities, made worse by the pandemic. Half of unemployed AAPI workers, predominantly immigrants, have been jobless for six months or more, the highest rate of any group of workers. Many AAPI immigrants work in restaurant, retail, and personal services like nail salons.

“We also should not overlook the fact that these were Asian and Asian American women working in industries with few worker protections and oversight. It is misogyny and white supremacy that both empowers white nationalists to acts of violence and policymakers to exclude workers from protections when they are in industries disproportionately represented by women and immigrants,” said Thammarath.

Also read:

Surge of Anti-Asian hate crimes spurs communities to action


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.