NORCROSS — Norcross City Council moved to release a statement earlier this month condemning hate crimes following the Atlanta spa shootings while simultaneously expressing support for the Norcross Police Department.
On March 16, Robert Long shot and killed eight individuals in a spa, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise throughout the course of last year. Stop AAPI Hate documented 6,603 reported hate incidents from March 2020 to March 202, with a 42.5% increase in violent acts from 3,795 to 6,603 during March 2021 alone. Activists say even more have gone unreported nationwide.
However, hate incidents toward Asian Americans is no new phenomenon; its roots can be traced to legislative, historical, and imperialist efforts throughout U.S. history. The Chinese massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles serves as a poignant example, which was followed by restrictive and xenophobic legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Page Exclusion Act of 1875. In the aftermath of 9/11, violence against South Asians skyrocketed, and the Sinophobia accompanied by the COVID-19 pandemic with such terms as “China virus” heightened violence against East Asians and Pacific Islanders throughout 2020.
Following the Atlanta spa shootings, police empowerment initiatives and greater police presence swept the country, despite many Asian activist groups such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Asian American Feminist Collective advocating for community-based solutions rather than more policing. Many community-based models include reallocating funds from police departments to community programs like food banks, housing shelters, mental health care infrastructures, trauma centers, and more. Norcross City Council’s recent move was just one of many efforts that sought to further police power in response to rising violence against Asian Americans while sidestepping calls from the community to consider other options.
Here’s our breakdown on local police empowerment efforts in response to violence against Asian Americans.
The Norcross City Council statement
On Mon., May 3, council members motioned to pass a resolution to condemn hate crimes. Council members Andrew Hixson, Matt Myers, Bruce Gaynor, Arlene Beckles, and Mayor Pro Tem Josh Bare were all present. The motion passed unanimously in favor.
Gaynor brought the resolution to the forefront, stating he felt it was “appropriate for the Norcross City Council to adopt an official resolution condemning the hate crimes and hate in all forms. To go on record and say this is not compatible with our values, not compatible with our city.” He cited Norcross’s diverse make-up as a key reason behind the importance of releasing a statement. According to a 2019 U.S. Census report, Norcross consists of 46.2% Hispanic or Latino individuals, 36.9% white individuals, 24.8% Black individuals, and 10.2% Asian individuals. Other council members audibly commended the effort during the meeting.
Norcross City Council’s resolution also lent credence to greater police power, spotlighting police support as the solution to combating hate crimes and violence against people of color. In this statement, the city council ruled, “The Mayor and City Council support the Norcross Police Department and its continuing commitment to fight against racism.” The statement goes on to back the Norcross Police Department, including that “the Norcross Police Department continues to be honest and transparent to build a culture of trust with those they serve.” Their statement came at the heels of Atlanta law enforcement’s hesitation to label race as a factor behind the Atlanta spa shootings, which are now being charged as a hate crime. The death penalty is also on the table.
Police response to Atlanta shootings
Law enforcement was notably reluctant to label race as a factor following the Atlanta spa shootings. In fact, law enforcement in Georgia validated the notion that the shooting was not racially motivated. Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office faced backlash for stating that Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”
He also noted that Long claimed the shooting was not racially motivated, pointing instead to the shooter’s self-described sex addiction. Indeed, the Atlanta Police Department checked “no” in their incident report under whether the violence was a suspected hate crime in another move that downplayed the importance of race as a factor. Law enforcement focused on a single-axis approach of examining whether race or gender was a factor, ignoring the intersectional identities of Asian women.
Due to imperialism and and historical legal initiatives, Asian and Asian American women are hypersexualized and fetishized, intrinsically linking race and sexual violence. U.S. military men have historically solicited sex workers while abroad during the Philippine-American War, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, further contributing to the hypersexualiation of Asian women.
Legal initiatives such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Page Act of 1875 also played a role in anti-Asian violence. The Page Act of 1875 was designed to restrict Asian immigrants, specifically for the purpose of prostitution — leading to the invasive and derogatory treatment of Asian women immigrating to the U.S. as well as worsening prejudices and stereotypes. In practice, this act, amongst others, blocked Asian women’s immigration to the U.S. These historical precedents are just a few examples of the events and policies that have shaped a lasting hypersexualization of Asian women.
National police empowerment
In Georgia, the historic hate crimes law passed last year penalizes crimes motivated by bias on numerous factors, a win for advocates after the tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick last year. However, some Senate Republicans originally sought to include police officers as a protected class along with other characteristics such as race, gender, etc. After rebuttals from state Democrats and advocates, Gov. Kemp instead signed the Police Protection Act into law in August 2020 providing greater protections for police officers in the event of death or serious bodily injury due to bias.
These police empowerment initiatives have not been solely limited to local Georgia resolutions. Nationwide, the scope of combating violence against Asian and Asian Americans has been tied to funneling the carceral system. Notably, the U.S. Senate passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act last month in a 94-1 vote.
The federal legislation framed police empowerment as a solution to the increasing violence against Asian Americans, ruling that the Attorney General should issue guidance for law enforcement to:
- Establish online reporting of hate crimes or incidents, and to have online reporting that is equally effective for people with disabilities as for people without disabilities available in multiple languages as determined by the Attorney General;
- Collect data disaggregated by the protected characteristics described in section 249 of title 18, United States Code; and
- Expand public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes and reaching victims, that are equally effective for people with disabilities as for people without disabilities.
Local and national activists’ response
Activists in Atlanta and across the nation continue to decry police and the carceral system as the fix for violence against Asians. For instance, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta issued a statement in response to the district attorney’s announcement of hate crimes and death penalty charges toward Long. They called for community-led initiatives to tackle the root causes of racism, stating they “reject increased police presence or carceral solutions as the answers.”
Further, many other advocacy groups mirror Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s call for community-based initiatives over further police support. More than 85 Asian American, LGBTQ+ and other advocacy organizations signed a statement to oppose the bill, calling on Congress to provide resources to address root causes of Asian violence rather than funneling more money to law enforcement. They stated, “The COVID-19 Hate Crimes assumes that the police are safe, but we know that police are devastating and deadly for BIPOC, trans, undocumented, sex workers, and many other communities whose liberation is bound together.” They went on to note that uplifting law enforcement further perpetuates violence against Asian Americans, specifically Black and brown Asians.
Hate crimes policy in Georgia — what comes next?
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ announced that she intends to seek hate crime charges against Long and the death penalty comes at the cusp of Georgia’s new hate crime law enacted just last year. If a crime is motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability, hate crime charges can be applied, which can increase the sentence length that Long will face.
The verdict of this mass shooting case will have significant ramifications as to how the hate crime law will be applied in the future in Georgia.