“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At some risk of over-simplification, the mass murder of eight massage parlor workers and customers in Cherokee and Fulton counties was, in fact, an act of hate. Self-hatred over a sexual addiction perhaps, but certainly acts of hate against alleged Asian sex workers, and six of those eight killed were Asian-American women. And though I am glad that Georgia did pass a hate crime bill into law last year, it will take more than state or federal statutes to ameliorate or abate hate.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Muslim Americans of perceived Middle Eastern descent were often stigmatized at best and suffered other repercussions ranging from acts of violence and vandalism to being targeted for removal or exclusion in thousands of American communities. During and after World War II, Japanese Americans suffered indignities ranging from forced internment in relocation camps out west to the permanent loss of their homes and businesses, for no reason other than their race.
Intolerance, prejudices, and often fear combine into a toxic brew that breeds hate. I don’t solely blame President Donald Trump for these horrific murders, but his leadership style and inflammatory rhetoric, particularly around the Wuhan flu and the “plague from China” certainly did not help. Words matter, particularly when coming from world leaders. And whether Nikita Khruschev is banging his shoe, or Kim Jong Un is calling Americans fat, lazy, and past their prime (kettle), those fighting words certainly do not breed peace, acceptance, or detente. They breed hate.
Calming those fears of more of the same among the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (AAPI) won’t happen overnight. Yet we can all choose to be part of the solution, versus ignoring or denying the problem exists. When Asian gangs threatening small business and immigrants in North Atlanta suburbs began to emerge and then surge several years ago, the GBI and multiple county sheriffs and larger municipal police departments banded together and formed a multi-jurisdictional task force to infiltrate and bust up those gangs. It took time, trust, and bridge-building as well as prioritizing the enforcement of gang and other criminal statutes over immigration infractions, but the results are there.
Hopefully, Robert Long, 21, who has already confessed to the killings to authorities in Cherokee County will be tried there, where the death penalty remains an option for the district attorney, as well as judges and juries in that Judicial Circuit. Whether or not his later defense involves mental illness or his alleged sex addiction, there are some depths of deviance and hatred from which one cannot be rehabilitated. Society may not yet be able to end acts of violence or hatred against Asian Americans, but within time and a fair trial, we can hopefully end him.
From sex workers to sex trafficking, the AAPI community in America is treated as an almost invisible community in part due to lack of English language proficiency. We need to go no farther than Canada to see a similar and allied nation offering a much more welcoming environment for the Chinese in particular, and Asians in general. China’s top immigration destination in the world, outside of Asia, is Canada.
Sadly, there is no silver bullet for ignorance, nor fear ... nor hatred. However, most find it is difficult to hate up close. Take the time as travel re-opens and as opportunities present, or even seek out others, getting to know people of different cultures, races and backgrounds. Even what I don’t entirely understand, I have found I can appreciate, IF I am willing to try, and if I want to help, by bringing others along. We are all in fact our brothers’ keeper.
It has not received a great deal of coverage or media attention, but Mr. Long was largely apprehended within hours of these deadly attacks due to being identified and reported to law enforcement by his own parents. I can only imagine the difficulty of that moment of acknowledgment in seeing security camera footage of their own son, and then almost immediately contacting local law enforcement, in hopes of preventing additional injury or death. I won’t pray for Mr. Long, but I will pray for this mother and father. We have to start somewhere. This story, no matter which angle you look at or research, has no happy ending.