Experts say motive in Atlanta spa attacks points to racism, sexism

Flowers and signs with messages of love and support were left Wednesday outside Young's Asian Massage in Cherokee County, Georgia, one of the spas where four of the eight victims were killed in the shooting attacks Tuesday evening.

Investigators said the suspect Robert Long, 21, confessed to the shootings there and at the Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa in Atlanta. Authorities say it is unclear whether he ever went to the spas. A Cherokee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Captain Jay Baker said Long blamed a sex addiction.

"He does claim that it was not racially motivated," said Capt. Baker, "He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places and it's ...a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate."

Long was charged with eight murders Wednesday. Authorities say six of the eight people Long allegedly killed were Asian women. There has been no evidence any of the victims were engaged in sex work and Atlanta's mayor said Wednesday that no massage parlors in the city had ever been raided.

"Let's call it for what it is. It's actually really aggravating for me that people are not calling it out. He was racist. He was committing violence against women," said Sheng Tao, the Oakland City Council President Pro Tempore.

Thao is among those nationwide who say Long's statement and the attacks point to racist and sexist stereotyping.

"Asian and Asian American women have been historically stereotyped as sexualized, fetishized objects. As objects of fantasies," said Catherine Ceniza Choy, a U.C. Berkeley Professor of Ethnic Studies who teaches Asian American history.

SEE ALSO: Suspect charged with killing 8 people at Atlanta massage parlors

"These stereotypes go back to the early 20th century with the portrayal of Asian and Asian American women as dragon ladies as lotus blossoms," said Professor Ceniza Choy, "Asian American women are viewed as a kind of temptress or seductress and we see this even in the second half of the 20th century."

Four of the five people shot at Young's Asian Massage parlor died. Officials say they are Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, Daoyou Feng, 44, and Xiaojie Tan, 49, who owned the business.

Yaun's mother Margaret Rushing told WAGA Fox 5 that Yaun and her husband had gone to the spa on a date. Yaun leaves behind a 13-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter. Her half-sister, Dana Toole, said Yaun's husband locked himself in a room and wasn't injured.

"He's taking it hard," Toole said. "He was there. He heard the gunshots and everything. You can't escape that when you're in a room and gunshots are flying -- what do you do?"

The manager of a boutique next door said her husband watched surveillance video after the shooting and the suspect was sitting in his car for as long as an hour before going inside.

They heard screaming and women running from the business, said Rita Barron, manager of Gabby's Boutique.

'Enough is enough': Community leaders call for immediate action to end anti-Asian attacks

The California County Behavioral Health Directors Association issued a call for action Wednesday to help stop Anti-Asian hate and violence.

"We have seen due to COVID an increase in our hotline calls, our crisis calls," said Jei Africa, Director of Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, "Oftentimes, I think the Asian American community is not part of the bigger conversation of racism and we should really be talking about this." 

They and others are calling for lawmakers to provide more funding and support for Asian American communities and to speak out.

"In regards of how we fund our services and what have you, we need to pay attention to those who are most marginalized and make sure resources get to them," said Sheng.

"One of the ways we can learn from this experience is to think critically of some of these popular images stereotypes of Asian American women and to challenge them," said Professor Ceniza Choy.

Asian American leaders and activists are scheduled to testify Thursday at 10:00 a.m. EST before the House Judiciary Committee about the rise of attacks and violence directed at their communities.