Anthony Ma

Anthony Ma

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Two filmmakers spent 6 years studying Vincent Chin’s murder – Here’s why it’s so hard to prove a hate crime

Vincent Chin

The recent news of Robert Aaron Long’s plea deal in the murder of four Asian spa workers in Cherokee County, Georgia is a bittersweet triumph. He was given four life sentences without the possibility of parole, but the Cherokee County District Attorney explicitly stated, “Your honor, in discussing this case with Mr. Burns, the defense’s position is that this was not any type of hate crime,” saying that the defense found no racial bias in the case. The FBI came to the same conclusion. With the four remaining murders still to be tried in Fulton County, the District Attorney there stated she intends to continue to pursue the case as a hate crime, keeping the domestic terrorism charges, and seek the death penalty. This is yet another example of the difficulties of proving racial bias in a court of law, especially when it comes to Asian Americans.

When Robert Aaron Long killed eight people in Atlanta back in March, the Asian American community could see this for what it was: a hate crime. Six of the victims were Asian women who worked at spas. This was not a coincidence. Their race and occupation made them targets. Asian women are fetishized in our culture, which is linked to the stereotype of seeing them as sex workers, a relic from colonialism and imperialism, multiple American wars in Asia, and the portrayal of Asian women in Hollywood films and television. The killer, however, claimed that this had nothing to do with race. He is “deeply religious,” struggles with a “sex addiction” and felt he needed to kill these women to remove the temptation they presented. With the news of Long’s plea deal came the revelation that he did in fact frequent these spas. If this is true, it would follow, then, that he either chose these Asian spas based off the stereotype that Asian spas are fronts for sex work, or that he chose Asian spas specifically because he had an Asian fetish. It seems highly questionable that he frequented multiple spas to solicit sex acts, and it was only a coincidence that they were all explicitly staffed by Asian workers. We are unaware of any hard evidence making this connection. For now, we are left to sift through circumstantial evidence to determine what was in his head that day. We are all too familiar with such a journey.