The recent murders of eight people in three separate Asian American businesses in Georgia has highlighted the national issues of racism toward Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and of violence toward women. It also highlights another source of stress and difficult questions for your AAPI employees, their families, and many others.

While mass murders have become alarmingly common, this one affecting eight people, six of them Asian American women at three different Asian American owned spa businesses in metro Atlanta, hit home to me in more ways than one.  Four people were killed at a spa located only a few miles from my home in Woodstock, Georgia.  Woodstock is a quiet suburb of Atlanta. It regularly makes the “safest cities” and “best places to live” lists.  More than that proximity, ours is an Asian American family.  For the first time in our many years living in metro Atlanta, my wife commented that she feels much less safe than a week ago and wonders if she or our daughter might be targets.  The murders have prompted conversations about some difficult questions within our family and with our friends. I suspect the same has occurred in many other American families, especially Asian American ones. Here are a few of the tough questions we’ve been discussing.

Why would anyone murder eight people?  The shooter’s rationale as reported in the media was steeped in racist fetishization and misogyny.  All the businesses targeted were run by Asian Americans. Six of the eight people who died were Asian Americans. It’s hard not to see this is a racially motivated hate crime aimed at women. It took authorities three days to identify some of the victims.  This points to the vulnerable, isolated lives these Asian American women led before being killed. There were over 3,800 acts of hate or violence against AAPI people in the US since the coronavirus pandemic- mostly reported by women. Ironically, on the same day of the shootings, 172 US congressmen voted against renewing the decades old Violence Against Women Act.  This law was enacted in 1994 and is aimed at tackling the problems of abuse, violence, and sex trafficking involving women and girls.

How do unstable people access deadly weapons so easily?   The shooter had purchased his murder weapon the same day as he carried out the deadly rampage.  Mental health professionals have long informed public policy makers that time is an ally of safety.  Putting time between a person’s suicidal or homicidal intention and accessing the lethal means to carry out that intention creates space.  That space can provide time for the person to change their intention or for intervening circumstances to diminish their violent intention.  A family member commented to me that it would be great that if in Georgia, registering to vote was quicker than an unstable person getting a gun.

What is “sexual addiction” and what about misogyny? The shooter said he was a sex addict and he was eliminating temptation by killing the women. The term- “sexual addiction”- is a complex and controversial one in the mental health field.  It is not a recognized diagnostic term or condition as defined in the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition – a manual widely used in the mental health field to assess and classify conditions. To me, this excuse sounds like the age-old tactic of blaming the victim.  A friend commented to me: “Men have been blaming women for their flaws and shortcomings since Adam blamed Eve when God confronted him about his choice to eat the forbidden fruit.”

Was another instance of institutional racism in law enforcement revealed?  The public spokesman and senior leader for one law enforcement agency was quoted as saying the shooter was having a “bad day”. This immediately created a firestorm of backlash over the insensitive remark.  His superior officer removed him from the case. Soon thereafter the media revealed that the same spokesperson had made social media posts promoting shirts with messages about the coronavirus being an “imported virus from chy-na”.  I presume this senior leader missed his agency’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion training!  If he had attended, he would have known that such unscientific and negative labels are very harmful and racist. Remarks like those demonize a group of people.  In turn, they make it easier for unstable people to reach a tipping point and take violent action against members of the group. How common is this behavior and attitude in other law enforcement agencies and how do these behaviors support minority groups’ confidence in fair and equitable treatment by law enforcement?

What employers should do in the wake of the Atlanta mass murders

  1. Speak out clearly to your employees about your organization’s stance and policy on racism and misogyny, including racism aimed at AAPI people. Remember that silence is complicity.
  2. Ensure your DEI initiatives address discrimination against AAPI people. If you don’t have a DEI initiative, now is a great time to start one.
  3. Use your employer-sponsored assistance programs effectively. They can provide debriefings, trainings, counseling support, and consultations with behavioral health experts to assist your managers and employees.
  4. Get engaged in ensuring your organization is providing easy access to mental health support and resources for your employees and their families.

Don’t wait for the next crisis.  Do these four things now.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. Fit To Pass is an innovative digitally assisted, telephonic coaching program that helps professional drivers be healthy enough to pass their DOT required medical examinations that ensure safety for the traveling public. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Sources

New York Times

Asian-Americans were targeted in nearly 3,800 hate incidents in the last year.

Christine Houser

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/us/hate-crimes-against-asian-americans-community.html

 

Stop AAPI Hate

https://stopaapihate.typeform.com/to/zhMP3fUx

 

Washington Post

Captain who said spa shooting’s suspect had a bad day…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/17/jay-baker-bad-day/