Michigan Gov. Whitmer, others react to Georgia slayings

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, other state officials and activists are calling a deadly attack on mostly Asian women in Georgia this week part of a troubling trend.

An official stands in front of a massage parlor after a shooting, late Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Atlanta.

 A white gunman was charged Wednesday with killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. The attack sent terror through the Asian American community that’s increasingly been targeted during the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports of incidents showing an increase in crime against Asian Americans since the pandemic began.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, told police that the attack was not racially motivated and claimed to have a “sex addiction,” with authorities saying he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation. Six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven were women.

Long was charged Wednesday with eight counts of murder and homicide, and one count of aggravated assault in the killings. Authorites say they are exploring what caused the suspect to act with violence and are in the early stages of their investigation.

They indicated that Long “did not appear to be” motivated by race and was possibly seeking revenge on women at spas he frequented out of frustrations with what an official called his “sexual addiction.”

But for many Asian Americans, the killings further fueled fears about anti-Asian hatred that has mounted over the last year.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that regardless of the shooter’s motivation, “it is unacceptable, it is hateful and it has to stop.”

In a video posted on Twitter on Wednesday night, Whitmer said the attack "happened against the backdrop of an unprecedented rise in racist rhetoric and attacks on the Asian American community." 

The Democratic governor cited a report from the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, which this week reported nearly 3,800 incidents targeted Asian Americans between March 2020 and February 2021.

"When leaders refer to COVID-19 as 'Chinese flu' or 'China virus' they perpetuate bigotry and xenophobia, feeding the incidents we have seen," Whitmer said. " ...The anti-Asian violence and discrimination we’ve seen may not be representative of what America is at its best, but it is the reality in America for millions of Asian Americans everyday."

Whitmer went on to say residents "should live our values, not just say them out loud. And I want to make my values very clear: hate has no home in Michigan or the United States. We must remain united in our fight against the parallel epidemics of racism and COVID-19 that we face."

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin tweeted that the slayings were a "monstrous attack carried out in cold blood. The rise in crimes we’ve seen across our country directed at Asian Americans is deeply disturbing and cannot go unanswered."

This undated photo provided by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, in Georgia, shows Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, Ga.

Authorities said that they didn’t know if Long ever went to the massage parlors where the shootings occurred but that he was planning to go to Florida in a plot to attack “some type of porn industry.”

“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,” Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker told reporters.

Over the past year, thousands of cases of abuse have been reported to an anti-hate group that tracks incidents against Asian Americans, and hate crimes in general are at the highest level in more than a decade.

"The meteoric rise in bias incidents and hate crimes against Asian Americans is real, it is only getting worse, and as a nation, we must do more to bring it to an end," James White, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said in a statement Wednesday.

In response to the Georgia incidents, Madison Heights police Chief Corey Haines said Wednesday he and the city manager plan to meet with the suburb's Asian American leaders.

"We want to make it clear that hate crimes against any person will not be tolerated," he said in a video posted on Facebook. "To our Asian American community members who have experienced hateful acts, we want them to know that we hear you, we see you, we believe you and we support you."

In a joint statement Wednesday, the community groups Detroit Action and Rising Voices of Asian American Families said their members "will be holding space for Black, Brown, and (Asian American and Pacific Islander) healing soon." Details were not announced.

“We acknowledge that people are having varied and complex reactions to what has happened. We share the anxiety that many AAPIs are feeling right now, knowing that for some they have never felt this way before, and empathize with the Black and Brown communities that live with such an existential threat on their lives daily," the groups said.