The 21-year-old white man who went on a shooting spree at several Georgia spas, killing eight people, including six Asian women, was having a bad day, you see.

I know that because Capt. Jay Baker, a spokesperson for the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, said so during a press conference about the murders. He said of the accused mass murderer, Robert Aaron Long: “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

Well, heck. We all have bad days, don’t we?

Baker, who is white, continued playing the role of Long’s defense attorney, saying: “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.”

Long told police the attacks were not racially motivated. So there we have it, right? Within hours of his arrest, the young, white alleged mass shooter is given a cover story that will allow many white Americans to neatly file his acts under a category that isn’t “racist” or “misogynist” or “xenophobic,” or all three.

If you don’t see this as a problem, you might be part of the problem.

The rampage shook people in Asian communities across the country, and rightfully so. Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased nearly 150 percent last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

It’s no mystery why this has happened. Our former president and other right-wing figures took to calling the coronavirus pandemic everything from “the China Virus” to “Kung Flu,” hurling red meat at their xenophobic and white supremacist supporters and cynically demonizing Asian Americans in the process.

Do we know Long was specifically targeting Asian women? No, but it seems an odd coincidence he targeted businesses that employed Asian women. More importantly, we don’t know his exact motive, so given what’s known about the crime and the anti-Asian climate in the country, shouldn’t we be taking the possibility this was a hate crime seriously rather than writing the murders off to an amorphous “sexual addiction”? Yes, we should.

And even if there is a sexual component to the murders, “sexual addiction” is a claptrap term that sweeps away any serious discussion of how racism and misogyny are deeply intertwined.

This is the problem we see over and over and over again when white men lash out violently, particularly against women. There is always an excuse offered, something that points away from misogyny or white supremacy or right-wing radicalization.

And that makes it easier for people like Long to be viewed as misguided lone wolves, otherwise clean-cut Christian boys who no one believed capable of committing such a crime. It makes it easier for the broader public, and white people in particular, to ignore.

It makes it easier for young white men like Kyle Rittenhouse to kill two people at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and then, still armed with a rifle, walk right past police officers and leave the scene.

It makes it easier for some to excuse the predominantly white domestic terrorists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, saying they’re actually patriots or, as the former president tweeted at the time, “very special people.”

I don’t recall a single Black Lives Matter protester being called a patriot or a very special person. I recall blanket terms like “thugs” and “radicals.”

I don’t recall hearing anything about what kind of day George Floyd was having when Minneapolis police took him to the ground and now-fired Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes, killing him.

I don’t recall the Chicago police safely taking Laquan McDonald into custody then explaining what kind of day the 17-year-old was having. Instead, Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, now incarcerated, shot him 16 times.

Every major act of violence opens the door for conversations about what we, as a society, are doing wrong. Rarely will those conversations fit into tidy categories or be easily resolved. They involve race, guns, sex, discrimination, violent ideologies and hate. They’re the conversations we need to have, but don’t.

The senseless slaughter of six Asian women in Georgia is a tragedy that should lead us to address the wholly unacceptable demonization of Asian Americans and the danger of offhand slurs. It’s a chance to recognize that white supremacy is not just a guy in a Ku Klux Klan hood, but a deadly ideology that can be subtly transmitted and swiftly unleashed. It’s a chance to look at the dehumanization of sex workers, and the violence misogyny breeds.

We won’t know exactly what drove Robert Aaron Long to murder eight people anytime soon. But we know enough about the issues surrounding this hideous attack to have substantive discussions that could make our country better, and safer.

Will that happen? If America’s past is prologue, no.

This white accused mass murderer already has a cover story. Surprise, surprise.


Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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