Leaders from Georgia’s Asian American communities were divided Tuesday after a man accused of a shooting spree at three metro area spas reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Cherokee County.
While some felt justice was served following the decision to give the man, Robert Aaron Long, more than four consecutive life sentences, one Korean-American civic leader called the agreement “a slap in the face” to the region’s Asian population.
“We do not believe justice was achieved at the Cherokee County courtroom,” said Michelle Kang, secretary-general of the Korean American Committee Against Hate Crime. The organization formed in the wake of the March 16 shootings, which left eight people dead, including six Asian women.
Kang said there was “obvious racial discrimination against Asian victims’ families” as the plea deal was being finalized. She said she doesn’t believe the Cherokee County district attorney provided adequate in-language services to them to receive their full input.
Others suggested Asian Georgians may rest a little easier following a tough 18 months that saw a spike in violence against Asian Americans as racist rhetoric surrounding the origins of the coronavirus escalated.
“I think you’re going to get a little bit of comfort in the community. They’re definitely going to think that if something happens to us, there is going to be justice or something will happen,” said state Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville. “We as community leaders and as legislators, we came together and did the best we could to amplify and ask for justice.”
Credit: Ben Gray
Credit: Ben Gray
A Cherokee County judge sentenced Long to four consecutive life sentences in prison, plus 35 years without the possibility of parole, on Tuesday for the four lives he admitted to taking when he opened fire in Youngs Asian Massage near Acworth this spring.
The agreement spares him a death sentence, though that possibility remains in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis said she will seek the death penalty for the 22-year-old defendant’s shootings of four people at spas in that county.
The families of Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54, were gathered in the Cherokee County courtroom as Long spoke publicly for the first time about the fatal shootings.
While some praised the life sentence as the first step toward healing and accountability in a time of tragedy, others voiced dissatisfaction with the response to what they deem as a hate crime.
“I am heavily disappointed by the absence of hate crime charges by DA Shannon Wallace as the intentions and targets were clear,” biologist and metro Atlanta resident Terianne Wong said in a text message. “Just as all terrorists intend, (Long) caused tremendous pain/trauma to our communities and the victims’ families with his misogynistic violence on American soil.”
Here’s what other leaders said about the plea deal and sentence:
Georgia Sen. Michelle Au: ”On what may be an incredibly difficult day for those affected by the March 16th shootings, I am holding the families and our communities in my thoughts, and hope today’s events bring some measure of peace.“
“What justice looks like in the long term, however, results from not any one decision, but from continued attention, work and commitment to addressing violence and discrimination. And the work we continue to do together is what truly transformative justice looks like.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux: ”Nothing can bring back the lives that were lost in the Atlanta spa shootings, but the life sentence is an important first step towards accountability and repairing our community. In addition, I would like to see these crimes fully investigated under the state’s newly enacted hate crimes bill. As violence against our AAPI community continues to rise, it is essential that any racially motivated attacks be treated with the utmost seriousness.”
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Jongwon Lee, volunteer attorney for Korean American Committee Against Asian Hate Crime: “Plea bargains don’t exist in Asian countries. I believe the DA needs to explain the process of negotiations to the Asian community or they will not accept the outcomes.”
Xavier Kim, managing director of the Asian American Resource Center: “He will live his life in prison and I am hoping he looks back and reflects on what he has done to the victims, the families of the victims and to the entire community.”
Sue Ann Hong, president and CEO of the Center for Asian Pacific American Women: ”He’s here all talking about himself and his issues. I get that, but I’m surprised he didn’t lead with ‘I know I hurt people. I killed somebody. I hurt families.’ I saw nothing of that in here. I don’t get it.“
”To me, you were targeting these specific establishments, which are predominantly Asian. From my perspective, that’s the biggest thing that stands out. It was deliberate.“
Stephanie Cho, executive director for the civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta: “This person inflicted so much pain into the Asian American community, not just in Georgia but nationwide, and I don’t know if this is considered justice because his actions, his accountability and his words we haven’t heard. I don’t know if he takes real accountability for what he’s done.”
Ed Sohn, Atlanta-based attorney: “The Asian community may be ready to move forward, but that’s easier said than done because so many questions linger. Does the theory of sex addiction and strict religious upbringing preclude any presence of racial hate? I can tell you that regardless of how the court treated this, the Asian community feels less safe today in Atlanta than it did before these shootings.“
”Someone needs to recognize this unique impact to the AAPI community, not just in the criminal justice system but for the people who will be picking up the pieces. Who will care for the survivors of these tragedies? Who will walk with empathy with those who are hurting, and who will do the hard work of preventing the next Robert Long, the next act of violence? The devastated families here, and our shocked Asian community that stands with them, will be navigating fallout years after these cases are concluded. Collectively, we may forgive, but we cannot afford to forget. We must take action.”
Crystal Hsu, Taiwanese/Chinese-American Gwinnett resident: “This is a small glimpse of hope in an increasing sea of resistance against justice for all. My fear is that a few years from now, we will forget this specific incident, or get tired of fighting, and the system will reduce his sentence. History has shown us that our legal system has not always provided justice for people of color in instances like this. My hope is that Asian Americans will not be satisfied with this. That our community will continue to fight for justice, even now as the state legislature is restricting education around our country’s racist past.”
Clement Lin, Taiwanese-American Atlanta resident: “In some ways, it feels like a relief, but I don’t fully trust our justice system. My hope is that the Asian American community and the communities that have been supporting us will continue to fight for justice. At the end of the day, we know the motivations for these murders and the hatred towards Asian Americans won’t change as a result of this verdict. There’s still so much work to be done.”