As It Happens·Q&A

Why this Georgia state representative says the Atlanta spa shootings are a hate crime

When a Georgia man opened fire at a spa this week, he triggered an outpouring of fear and outrage. He went to three different spas in the Atlanta area and killed eight people. All but one of the victims were women — and six of them were Asian American.

'We are very concerned and worried about the continued target against Asians,' says Bee Nyugen

Bee Nguyen, Georgia's first Vietnamese-American state representative, says she considers Tuesday's shootings a hate crime. (CBC News)

When a Georgia man opened fire at a spa this week, he triggered an outpouring of outrage and fear, nowhere more deeply than in the Asian-American community, that has been targeted for racism and attacks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

The man went to three different spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night and killed eight people. All but one of the victims were women — and six of them were Asian American.

Capt. Jay Baker from the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said  police arrested 21-year-old Robert Long and charged him with murder and assault. 

Bee Nguyen is Georgia's first Vietnamese-American state representative. She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the attack on Wednesday. Here is part of that conversation.

Representative Nguyen, how did you find out about this attack?

I started getting a lot of messages from my friends and family members checking in on me [Tuesday] night. And then once they started coming in, I tuned in to the news to see what was happening. 

It's been non-stop since last night in just trying to get through and figure out what has happened, how we can support the victims and their family and how we can support the Asian-American community as a whole. 

He went to three Asian businesses, killed six Asian women. And we know that there is a history of the sexualization of Asian women in America and across the country.- Bee Nguyen, Georgia state representative

The locations [are] 30 miles apart, according to what the police have told us. Why specifically these businesses, do you think?

From what I've heard, the person in custody right now was familiar with these particular businesses. They are all three Asian businesses that offer some sort of massage services.

A white gunman was charged Wednesday with killing eight people at three Atlanta-area spas on Tuesday. The killings sent terror through the Asian American community, which increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/The Associated Press)

We have been covering this story of attacks on Asian Americans. The initial presumptions were that these attacks were targeted because they are Asian Americans. What have you heard?

The way that it is currently being framed right now is that the suspect in custody has stated this is not a hate crime, but I do not think that merits us framing it as it not being a hate crime. 

We have the facts that it was a targeted killing. He went to three Asian businesses, killed six Asian women. And we know that there is a history of the sexualization of Asian women in America and across the country.

We cannot take it based on his words. We have to put it into context. From everything that I have seen and everything that I have read, I still believe that this is a hate crime.

The police, in the press conference they gave today, they said that he claimed that he had no racial motivations and that he had some kind of a sexual addiction, that he was "removing temptation" … what do you make of that?

Let me first say this. You cannot really talk about racism and misogyny, and how Asian women are viewed, and separate those as different issues. They all intersect with each other.

The idea that it is not race-based is not reflective of what we know about sexualization of Asian women. It does not change the fact that these were targeted killings. And quite frankly, we have seen in the past when these mass shootings occur, there's a tendency to provide excuses for those who commit these atrocities. And those excuses are always to somehow justify that they're not hate crimes. It humanizes the suspect instead of humanizing the victim.

Sheriff says suspect talked about his motivation

CBC News

5 months ago
0:28
Cherokee County Sheriff's spokesperson Capt. Jay Baker says the man arrested following several shootings in Atlanta took responsibility for the killings. 0:28

Well, there's been a fair bit of criticism today because it seems the police went even further than suggesting that he was suffering from some kind of a sexual addiction. The captain of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said that the suspect was "pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him. And this is what he did." How do you respond to that?

It is the centering — again — of the prototypical white, disaffected young man who somehow feels aggrieved in one way or the other and his response to that is to go and purchase a firearm and commit a mass shooting. 

We have seen this before, and then his actions are justified by mental health issues or by some other narrative that the media chooses to prop up. But the reality is, he is somebody who went out and bought a weapon. He went to three different locations. One of them is 40 miles apart. And he killed six Asian women.

If he wants to talk about his sex addiction, then perhaps he needs to address it with himself rather than try to dehumanize and eliminate women who have nothing to do with whatever demons he's facing.

Jessica Lang pauses and places her hand on the door after dropping off flowers at Youngs Asian Massage, where four people were killed. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/The Associated Press)

Authorities in other cities are saying that they are looking out for copycat crimes — that this might inspire others to do something similar. You said at the beginning that your people were calling you to see if you're OK. What concerns now move through communities after a crime like this?

I think that there was always some fear and some concern, beginning with the acceleration of hate crimes that we've seen over the last year because we had the most powerful leader in our country assigning blame [for the pandemic] to China, and therefore Asians living in America had a target on our backs. And so, you know, this feeling of fear has been pervasive in the community for at least this past year. 

But we obviously know that the treatment of Asians in America [is] historically [rooted]. Also, we've seen acts of violence towards our communities. That fear has increased over time ... when we started seeing the targets at our elderly Asian folks on the West Coast that have resulted in the death of some.

But now with something that is just so close to home, that is so horrifically violent, I do think that all of us are thinking about our parents, our siblings. And we are very concerned and worried about the continued target against Asians.


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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