The spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office faces calls to resign after he categorized the Atlanta spa shooting suspect’s actions as “a really bad day.”
That comment has elicited criticism from civil rights activists wary of law enforcement amid rising violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Capt. Jay Baker said Robert Aaron Long, 21, was “kind of at the end of his rope” when he allegedly opened fire inside three spas in Atlanta and Cherokee County on Tuesday.
The gunfire injured nine and killed eight, including six Asian women. Long was charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Officials stopped short of calling it a hate crime for now.
“He does claim that it was not racially motivated,” Baker said of Long on Wednesday.
Bianca Jyotishi, Georgia manager for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement on Thursday that Baker’s comments dismissed the seriousness of the killings and that the officer’s words are “unconscionable and blatantly offensive.”
“The victims, their families, and the entire Asian American community deserve respect and support from our government. Our country’s failure to address systemic racism emboldens people like Captain Baker to promote anti-Asian sentiments freely and without accountability,” Jyotishi said in a statement.
Cherokee Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a released statement on Thursday that they regret “any heartache” Baker’s words may have caused, adding the community knows about Baker’s “personal ties to the Asian community” and his “unwavering support and commitment” to the county’s citizens.
Baker’s adopted brother, Tony Baker, is a Vietnamese immigrant who serves as a Superior Court judge in Cherokee County.
“In as much as his words were taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate, they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect,” Reynolds said in a statement.
“Captain Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his twenty-eight years in law enforcement.”
Hours later on Thursday, the sheriff’s office stated Baker is no longer handling public statements for the case.
Social media fallout swiftly occurred following Baker’s remarks.
“Instead of even considering the killing of 6 Asian women a hate crime, Captain Jay Baker said it was a ‘really bad day’ for the suspect,” according to a Twitter post from Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese-American author.
The Onion, a satirical news website, tackled the controversy with an article titled “Sympathetic Police Know What It’s Like To Have A Bad Day And Kill 8 People.”
People online quickly uncovered Baker’s personal social media accounts, which allegedly included a Facebook photo of a T-shirt with words stating the coronavirus was imported from “CHY-NA,” which is a play on former President Donald Trump’s pronunciation on “China.” Baker’s Facebook page was deleted Wednesday night.
Nguyen and many others online, including Korean-American actress Arden Cho, alluded to a connection between Baker’s press conference attitude and the content on his Facebook profile.
“Capt. Jay Baker, you need to remove yourself from investigating this,” according to a Twitter post from Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. “Your efforts to humanize the killer & suggest the shooting was not a hate crime are troubling now that we know you promoted this racist view.”
The term “Jay Baker resign” appeared in Twitter’s search results due to the abundance of tweets requesting his resignation from the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office received support online from Cherokee County Commission Chair Harry Johnston, who posted on Facebook that people have “misconstrued” Baker’s comments.
“Some people incorrectly took his comments as ‘excusing’ the shooter’s actions. I know that wasn’t and would never have been what he meant. My prayers are with the victims and their families,” according to Johnston’s post.
A spokeswoman from the Change.org petition website told The AJC that hundreds of people have already signed four separate online campaigns requesting Baker’s resignation. Two of the four petitions collectively gathered nearly 3,000 signatures by 2 p.m. Thursday.
“Leadership in this police precinct is unfit to pursue justice for this affected community and calls into question whether it is fit to pursue justice for any marginalized constituent in Georgia,” according to an online post from petitioner Rei Tran of San Francisco.
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Women of Asian descent have reported 2.3 times more incidents of violence than Asian men, according to a new Stop AAPI Hate report of nearly 3,800 hate incidents reported since March 2020.
Jyotishi told The AJC that polling from her organization done in February and March revealed nearly half of the Asian American and Pacific Islander women respondents were affected by anti-Asian racism in the past two years.
She said leaders must recognize Baker’s behavior “fuels the racist and sexist targeting of Asian American women.”
“His behavior showcases precisely why law enforcement is not the solution,” Jyotishi said in a statement.