MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Eight people were found dead at Atlanta area spas Tuesday after a believed lone gunman’s shooting spree.
Six of the victims were Asian Women.
It was news that hit home for Memphis native Dr. SunAh Laybourn.
“I felt an intense heaviness. I was up all night. I didn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m.,” said Laybourn.
Laybourn is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of Memphis with a focus on race and ethnicity, but as a Korean-American her experience with racism goes beyond the classroom.
Laybourn said, “Yes! throughout my life. I mean most recently a couple of weeks ago, I was going for a jog and a woman yelled at me to keep running and run all the way back to China.”
Concerns were initially raised about the mass shooting in and around Atlanta being a hate crime towards Asian-Americans, but investigators say the shooter claims he had a sex addiction, an addiction he linked to the spas.
“It can be both. So it can definitely be that sex addiction part of it and him wanting to eliminate what he saw as a source of his temptation and I think he even said as much but it can also be racially motivated. There was a particular reason why he went to those particular businesses versus a number of other spas or massage parlors,” said Laybourn.
According to the self-reporting online tool Stop AAPI Hate, from March 19, 2020, through December there have been 2,800 anti-Asian American hate incidents.
Most experts believe it was fueled by the pandemic and President Trump referring to the Coronavirus as the “China-virus”.
“They’re projecting the view of I guess the actual virus onto an entire race regardless of whether they’re Chinese, Korean Japanese,” said Marie Ensell, President of the Asian American Association at the University of Memphis.
Ensell says hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been a problem long before the start of the Pandemic.
However, according to the 2019 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Hate Crime Report, there was only one reported hate crime against Asian Americans.
Ensell says, “Because our communities are enclosed in our spaces for the most part there are people who don’t really feel comfortable enough to speak out about it.”
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant says it’s too early in the investigation to pinpoint a definitive motive for the shooting.