The mass shooting in the US this week is yet another reminder that hate crimes have graduated from crimes to a domestic terrorism crisis.
When 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long – a Caucasian male who professes his love for guns and God on social media – was taken into custody for killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women, Georgia’s Cherokee County Police Department didn’t invoke the word “terrorism” or describe his violence as a “hate crime,” but told reporters he had “really bad day.”
Why? Because that’s what the killer told them. In America, white perpetrators get to control their narrative, not the authorities or media – the polar opposite of what people of colour experience.
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did,” said Cherokee County sheriff’s captain Jay Baker, which is a notably peculiar way to describe mass murder.
It’s obvious that two sets of vocabularies exist for law enforcement in the United States, with one set of phrases reserved for non-white and foreign perpetrators of violence and another for white Christian males. When it comes to the latter, their acts of mayhem and bloodshed – even when politically or racially motivated – are routinely dismissed as a “bad day,” “mental health issue,” or “parking dispute,” as was the case when a white terrorist executed three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015.
Admittedly, what we know about the gunman is scant, other than the fact he had posted on Instagram that “pizza, guns, drums, music, family and God” that “this pretty sums up my life,” and that he had confessed to police to having a “sex addiction.”
A former high school colleague of Long told the Daily Beast, “He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.”
No doubt the investigation into what drove Long to target businesses he knew to be predominately staffed by Asian Americans is ongoing, but what’s undeniably true is his violence takes place at a time when hate crimes against the racial minority are surging off the charts and to little or no political attention.
During the past year, hate crimes against Asians spiked 150 percent, even as overall hate crimes fell by 7 percent, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
Graphic videos have captured Asians being spat on, punched unsuspectedly to the head, thrown to the ground, kicked in the stomach while on the ground, and beaten with bats and other objects. In some parts of the country, the violence has become so bad that it has prompted some Asian communities to establish neighbourhood watch patrols.
Earlier this week, the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate revealed that nearly 3,800 incidents of hate were targeted at Asian Americans during the pandemic, with women representing 68 percent of victims. But as noted by civil rights activists, hate crimes are always underreported. The actual number is likely to be much higher.
Human rights activists have tied the surge in violence to Sinophobic rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump, who routinely refers (and throughout his brief time in office) to Covid-19 as the “China virus” or “Kung flu,” among others which have spread conspiracy theories and disinformation about the origins of the deadly virus.
Were Americans to engage in an honest discussion about hate crimes, they would recognise the close relationship between hate crime and terrorism, in which the respective forms of violence operate as distant relatives, rather than close cousins, tying hate crime to terrorism.
“Terrorism is often an ‘upward crime,’ involving a perpetrator of lower social standing than the targeted group,” observe researchers at the University of Albany, State University of New York. “By contrast, hate crimes are disproportionately ‘downward crimes,’ usually entailing perpetrators belonging to the majority or powerful group in society and minority group victims.”
In the United States, however, the label “terrorism” is reserved only for politically or racially motivated acts of violence carried out by non-whites and immigrants. It’s by this means that American political discourse externalises problems as foreign-born, using the ‘other’ as a convenient political scapegoat.
Earlier this week, for instance, House Republicans held a photo-op on the US-Mexico border to warn of approaching migrant refugees, which they falsely claimed were infiltrated by “terrorists,” a term they never used to describe the thousands of Republican Party voters who stormed the US Capitol to overturn the election on behalf of Trump.
The central promise of “Make America Great Again” is the country will be restored, cleansed and made crime free at such time non-white immigrants and undocumented immigrants are removed or blocked from entering the country. What's ironic is that these minorities have substantially lower crime rates than native-born citizens, with US-born citizens more than two times likely to be arrested for violent crimes, according to researchers at University of Wisconsin-Maddison.
The United States has a gun crisis and a white domestic terrorism crisis, a reality brought into view by the gunning down of a half-dozen Asian women in Atlanta on Tuesday. Scapegoating immigrants will do nothing to resolve this pair of problems, but a honest conversation about racism, violence and terrorism just might.
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