Atlanta mayor calls police depiction of motive in spa killings 'victim blaming'

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took issue with the way authorities described the possible motive of the suspect in the Tuesday evening killings of eight people at three spa locations.

The mayor countered the depiction used by Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department shortly after he pointed to suspect Robert Aaron Long’s assertion that “sexual addiction” rather than racism toward Asian Americans was behind his shooting rampage.

“We are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming, here,” Bottoms said at a Wednesday news conference, adding, “We don’t know additional information about what his motives were. We will not begin to blame victims, and as far as we know in Atlanta these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, the radar of [the Atlanta Police Department].”

Earlier at the news conference, Baker drew scrutiny for his matter-of-fact description of Long’s mindset.

“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did,” Baker said, adding that the businesses were seen by Long as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”

Long, 21, was arrested Tuesday evening. Six of the eight victims were Asian women, but Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said Wednesday morning that it was too early to call the murders a hate crime. The killings come amid an increased focus on violence against Asian American communities, and the FBI is involved in the investigation.

On Wednesday afternoon, Long was charged with murder and assault.

Keisha Lance Bottoms
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaking about the arrest of Robert Aaron Long on Wednesday. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) (AP)

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department said that Long confessed to the crimes and that he was apprehended after his family assisted law enforcement. Officials stated that Long told them he viewed the spas as a sexual outlet, but it is not yet known whether he had visited any or all of the three establishments prior to his attack, or if any of those establishments had ties to the sex industry.

Officials said they believe that when they apprehended Long he was heading to Florida to commit further violence, suggesting he was planning to target “some type of porn industry” business. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Long purchased a gun used in the killings on Tuesday just hours before the shooting.

Police responded to the report of a robbery in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta, just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday. They found four people dead and one injured at Young’s Asian Massage. An hour later they responded to reports of a robbery at Gold Spa in northeast Atlanta. Three women were found dead there, along with another victim at Aromatherapy Spa across the street.

Authorities released names of four of the victims: Ashley Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.

“That the Asian women murdered yesterday were working highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during an ongoing pandemic speaks directly to the compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence and white supremacy,” said Phi Nguyen, a litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, in a statement.

“While authorities are still investigating the motive in these attacks and whether or not they were anti-Asian in nature, we already know that too many within the AAPI [Asian American/Pacific Islander] community fear every day for themselves and their loved ones as a result of the spate of attacks over the past year,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement. “We all must call on elected officials to take steps to counter anti-Asian hate and other extremist or hateful ideology. And law enforcement at every level, along with social media companies, must work together to help intercept and combat this growing threat.”


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