What happened in Atlanta should be considered a hate crime.
On March 16, Robert Aaron Long killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Long’s action has not yet been classified as a hate crime because the motive, he states, was his sex addiction. The women in the spas were merely collateral damage in Long’s effort to eliminate his temptation and guilt. Sex addiction, however, is not a medically recognized diagnosis. And research has proven there is no correlation between sex addiction and killing.
Nonetheless, in looking for another explanation for Long’s action, his church’s “purity culture” is being called into question as a possible motive. Perhaps around the high holy week of Passover and Easter, it might be a good time to examine one’s theology.
Purity culture became a fast-growing and popular movement in the 1990s in white evangelical churches, like the Crabtree First Baptist Church, to which Long belonged. Purity culture purportedly assists teens and young adults in practicing abstinence before marriage. “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage,” the True Love Waits pledge reads.
Purity rings are outward symbols of upholding the pledge. Pop stars including Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, and Miley Cyrus wore them before they caved in.
Understandably, Long, like many teens and young adults, would wrestle with sexual urges and purity culture tenets. Given its compulsory heterosexual mandates and its denunciation of present-day gender theories the fluidity of human sexuality, purity culture’s laundry list of do’s and don’ts create an untenable environment. The psychological toll and spiritual harm have made many teens and young adults like Long leave these churches. While the suffering and confusion in these rigid church environments are undeniable, there is no correlation between purity culture and acting out violently or killing.
Though no one yet wants to call Long’s killing of six Asian women a hate crime, mass shootings are predominately within a specific demographic group—young white men. The problem of young white males and mass shootings has been screaming at us for some time. Getting to the why for these specific types of shootings predominately from this demographic group is not as mysterious or elusive as it is purported to be. Neither mental illness nor addiction has been the principal cause. Long, like many of these young men, has made his private hell a public massacre. As one academic administrator from UMass Boston wrote to me in an email:
I think we need to examine critically the fact that most mass shootings are done by young, white, relatively economically privileged males. What is it about their socialization that results in the manifestation of their mental illness in a rage-fueled carnage of this magnitude? If we don’t ask these questions, along with all the others, I fear we are missing an important factor in this and other mass shooting tragedies.
Entertaining Long’s sexual addiction as a believable explanation for the killings diverts attention from his acts of intentional xenophobia and racialized misogyny. The fetishization of Asian American and Pacific Island women has constantly made their lives expendable to sex traffickers and men’s violent fantasies. Long’s killings could have been part and parcel of a snuff film porn fantasy disguised as removing the source of his sex addiction temptations. “Racism and sexism are partners that stoke each other with frightening ease,” Anne Anlin Cheng, a Princeton professor, told the Atlantic. “Here’s the thing that many people find hard to accept: Hatred does not preclude desire.”
As a result of Long’s act, six women of Asian descent are no longer with us: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Soon C. Park, 74; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; and Yong A. Yue, 63. This recent attack highlights the expanse of racist violence in this country on people of color.
With COVID-19 derisively called the “China flu” and the “Kung flu,” these killings are the consequences of the yearlong verbal and physical attacks ignored by our AAPI brothers and sisters across the country. Sadly, laws in this country have never protected POC. Hate crimes are challenging to prove; in Long’s case, it would have to be proven that he committed the crime solely because the women were Asian.
I, however, see Long’s actions as similar to that of Dylan Roof, who in 2015 went into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and killed nine Black parishioners during Wednesday Bible Study.
To not prosecute Long’s heinous act for what it is—a hate crime—will merely continue anti-AAPI hate with impunity.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.