Tragedy strikes again among the Asian American community in the United States as activist groups report a surge in racial aggression and acts towards the population particularly targeting women and the elderly since March 2020 linked with the use of taunting language in connection with the virus epidemic by the previous US President which has unleashed uncontrollable anger.

The shooting rampage by 21-year-old American, Robert Aaron Long, suffering from sex addiction, last week, in which eight were killed including six Asian American women has, in a similar manner to the death of Thai man Vicha Ratanapakdee in January, crystallised an escalated level of nervousness among the Asian American community in the United States caused by the Covid-19 crisis and the politicisation of the pandemic by linking it with China. It is a deeply concerning state of affairs for everyone in the world but particularly for those with links to immigrant communities both in the United States and Thailand.

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Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County sheriff’s office (left), on Friday, attempted to explain the motivation behind 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long’s killing spree last Thursday (right). He was later removed as a spokesperson for law enforcement in the case. The killing of eight people including six Asian women at massage parlours comes as the Asian American community is reporting a massive surge in anti-Asian sentiment since March 2020 being blamed on an attempt to politicise the Covid-19 virus and pandemic.

The Thai Embassy in Washington DC, this week, took the unusual step of warning Thais living in the United States to take extra precautions after a 21-year-old gunman in Georgia, Robert Aaron Long, targeted three Asian massage parlours in suburbs in the greater metropolis of Atlanta killing eight people, six of them Asian women.

It is understood, at this stage, that no Thai nationals were among the deceased but the crime has further galvanized a campaign in the United States following a spike in racist attacks on the Asian population since the Covid-19 outbreak began there in March 2020.

Anti-Asian feeling in the United States is real and the recent death of 84-year-old Thai man Vicha Ratanapakdee marked it out clearly

The extent of anti-Asian feeling in the United States particularly in California which is home to more Thais in America, than any other state, was crystallized at the end of January when an 84-year-old retired Thai bank auditor, Vicha Ratanapakdee, was murdered in San Francisco in a random attack by a 19-year-old African American named as Antoine Watson from nearby Daly City.

Murder charge for 19 year old who barrelled down elderly Thai man in San Francisco 

The killing of Mr Vicha has since led to a stronger and more visible campaign by groups, such as Stop AAPI Hate, against the violence that has been sparked by the virus crisis against Asian Americans which many activists attribute to the past President and the use of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian rhetoric to do with the disease. AAPI stands for Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

76-year-old Chinese woman fought back

Before the killing rampage on Thursday, a 76-year old Chinese woman, Xiao Zhen Xie, was attacked on Wednesday by a white man on Market Street in San Francisco who severely punched her into the face.

However, the brave older woman grabbed a stick and fought her attacker back leading to the middle-aged white man being taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Police say the older woman was found at the scene in an enraged state holding her stick and had to be held back from inflicting further injury on her cowardly attacker who she referred to as a ‘bum’.

Her daughter, Dong-Mei Li, told CBS on Friday that her mother was still ‘very traumatized, very scared and her eye is still bleeding. The right eye still cannot see anything and is still bleeding and we have something to absorb the bleeding.’

Asian women are widely reported to be living in fear of being alone on the streets of the United States

The case confirms reports from activist groups, such as Stop AAPI Hate, that Asian women, in particular, are now thinking carefully about going out alone in American cities especially in California.

The group has cited up to 1,800 racist incidents reported by Asian Americans in the last year since the virus crisis began in the United States. 44% have been in the state of California.

Crime reports have risen by 248% to 122 reported crimes in the period of less than a year from March 2020 to January this year. 

Asians were less likely to be crime victims

Figures from the District Attorney’s offices in San Francisco and Alameda counties before the pandemic showed that Asian Americans were less likely to be victims of crime than average.

In San Francisco, 36% of the population is now of Asian descent but only 16% of the crime reported was by Asians as victims.

Officials have cautioned that this may also be because the Asian American population is also less likely to report crime.

The figures do however confirm a sharp rise in animosity towards the Asian American population.

Thai women working in the sex trade

A large segment of the Thai US population in California and other states is made up of Thai women who have come to America to marry American men and this inflow of immigrants continues even as the organic Thai American community is growing and like other immigrant communities before it, is also becoming a political force in the United States. 

Prominent Thai Senator Tammy Duckworth of the state of Illinois is a standard-bearer of this progress.

US Senator is a woman who speaks Thai 

Among these Thai immigrants are also women working in the sex trade and massage parlours such as those attacked on Thursday by 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long.

Religious 21-year-old man, suffering from deep-seated sex addiction issues, murdered eight people including six Asian women at massage parlours

The young man, reportedly deeply religious, suffered from sex addiction, a condition for which he was treated at Maverick Recovery, a rehab facility in Roswell Georgia from August 2019 to February 2020.

A friend at the facility, Tyler Bayless, described him as highly religious but tormented by his inability to overcome his addiction to sex.

The young man purchased a 9mm handgun this week expressly to carry out the attacks and initially targeted Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, a city in Cobb County Georgia, before driving to the Piedmont Heights area of Atlanta known as a red light area and attacking two establishments across the way from each other, the Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa.

When he was finished, he set off to Florida leaving eight dead behind him of which six were Asian women.

Parents who threw him out the night before helped police find him and cut short his killing spree

Mr Long’s parents, who had thrown him out of the home the night before because of his sex addiction problems, saw footage of him on TV and reported his identity to police and the fact that his mobile phone had a GPS tracker. This action may have helped save further lives.

Police involved in such crimes or prosecutors are understandably reluctant to ascribe the motive behind the attacks to racism fearing making the problem worse than it already is in a social media world full of anger and prejudice.

San Francisco Attorney General also played down the racial motive in Thai man’s murder in January

Following the death of Thai man, Vicha Ratanapakdee, even though murder charges were proffered against the 19-year-old perpetrator of that attack, Antoine Watson, the San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, appeared to attribute the outburst by the attacker to a bad day.

 ‘It appears that the defendant was in some sort of a temper tantrum,’ he told reporters explaining that the young man had been involved in a conflict the night before at home and was observed on CCTV before the attacks behaving in an angry manner.

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman removed after explaining the 21-year-old’s motives

On Thursday, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office seemed to put forward a similar explanation for the actions of Mr Long who told police that he had considered taking his own life but felt that it would be better to act against places of ‘temptation’ and indicated to police that he had visited the establishments before as he continuously succumbed to his addiction.

‘He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,’ the police official told the press. ‘As a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.’

The officer was later removed as the sheriff’s department spokesperson on the case.

Worst fears of University College Berkeley professor as she claims Asian women are being sexually objectified and racially discriminated against

These revelations have confirmed the worst fears of Catherine Ceniza Choy, a Professor of ethnic studies at University College Berkeley.

‘What those statements reflect is the sexual objectification of Asian and Asian-American women, and it hurt,’ she said on Friday.

This is particularly true for the US Thai population in America and especially for Thai women who are constantly the subject of unfair prejudice linked with an old stereotype that links Thailand with prostitution.

Victim’s families tell us the real story of the Asian American community and the extent of the tragedy

And yet within these outrages, just a casual glance at the families of the victims can tell us the real story. It is a story of tragedy because these are good people.

One of the victims of Thursday’s killing spree was 51-year-old Hyun J. Grant, one of four women killed by the gunman in Atlanta.

Her oldest of two sons, 23-year-old Randy Park, set up a fundraising page to share his grief at losing his mother and seeking help. His page received $750,000 within 24 hours which shows the goodwill out there in the community that rejects this violence.

‘She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I,’ he wrote. ‘Losing her has put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world.’

Daughter of 84 year old Vicha tells us more about her Dad who wanted to return to Thailand this year

It is a similar story to that of 84-year-old Thai national Vicha Ratanapakdee whose death has sparked a sense of unity, purpose and strength within the Asian American community in the United States who are now standing up and fighting back for their hard-earned status as real Americans second to none. 

This is something that has not happened in over 100 years since Asians and Chinese immigrants began to be persecuted in the late 19th century with mass lynchings and who later, up to March 2020 but only in recent decades, felt somewhat protected by the forces of law and order.

We have previously reported on the story of the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee but his daughter Monthanus in an interview with the New York Times has recently given some further and even more poignant insight into her father’s tragic death.

Thai man’s wife made him a cup of coffee, he said he’d take it when he returned from his walk

Such as that, on the morning of his death, his wife had made him a cup of coffee but he had decided he would take it when he came back from his early morning walk.

That was when, rounding a corner on Anzavista Avenue in San Francisco, he encountered an irate Antoine Watson who picked on him as an outlet for his uncontrollable rage.

The smaller Thai man, weighing only 113 pounds, was hit by the large African American man at full force and knocked to the ground suffering a brain haemorrhage in an act that even Watson’s public defender lawyer, Sliman Nawabi, has admitted was an unprovoked act of rage.

But it is rage stoked by an environment laced with anger and hatred.

Mother and daughter wiped blood from the pavement

Ms Monthanus revealed that she and her mother went to where her father had died and cleaned up bloodstains left on the pavement by her father. They wondered why it had not been removed previously.

Mr Vicha had worked until his retirement at Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank as an auditor up to his retirement in 1996. He was not only a devout man but one committed to peace and harmony.

He had followed his older daughter to the United States when she married an American to help take care of her children leaving his youngest daughter in Thailand and his 89-year-old sibling, Surachai Ratanapakdee who is the only surviving member of the older man’s original family.

Older brother recalls his brother’s love of other cultures, education and his commitment to Buddhism

Mr Surachai recalls that his brother was always interested in learning more about other cultures beyond Thailand but was also a committed Buddhist. 

He encouraged his daughter to take up an opportunity to study at University College Berkeley when it came to pass which is how she met her American husband.

‘Vicha was one of only a few people in the village who spoke English well,’ he recalled recently, pointing out that his young brother had studied and graduated from one of Thailand’s most prestigious seats of learning, Thammasat University.

In San Francisco, as the family of Ms Vicha has played a pivotal role in highlighting the rising Anti-Asian sentiment in the country, his daughter revealed that her father had already made up his mind to return to Thailand.

Missed the warmth of Thailand and the food

She said he had begun to miss the warm weather and the food of southern Thailand. He had received his first Covid-19 vaccine, the Moderna jab, on January 15th just two weeks before his death and planned to return for his second shot on February 12th.

‘We said, ‘Dad, we are going to go back soon!’ she recalled saying to him. 

She had two urns made up from his cremated ashes. 

One to be thrown into the water under the Golden Gate Bridge so that he could be near his American family and the other to be taken home to the family temple in Thailand so that he could be with his deceased siblings and family in Thailand

Ms Monthanus pointed out that her father always wore a protective Buddhist amulet when he went out but failed to put it on the morning he went to meet his death.

She told reporters that he had always stressed to her the importance of passing it on to the next generation of the family now living in the United States.

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Further reading:

Murder charge for 19 year old who barrelled down elderly 84-year-old Thai man in San Francisco

Thai woman found dead in London. 19-year-old man charged at the Old Bailey with her murder in the city

UK police detectives intensify probe into Thai woman’s 2004 murder and make public appeal for information

Thai bride named as ‘Lady of the Hills in Yorkshire’ by Thai police – husband, living here, is not a suspect

UK beauty spot may have disguised the grim murder of a Thai bride from Udon Thani for over a decade