For Asians Living in the Shadow of the Atlanta Killings, Anger and ‘Just This Constant Fear’

In Atlanta, a massive metroplex where little beyond the traffic report draws the attention of everyone, there is fear, frustration and anger about a white gunman’s decision to enter three Asian-owned spas and open fire. The alleged gunman is in custody, but the sense that the danger remains and that the public and even the law enforcement response to it has been less than robust is not hard to find. Instead, what Asian Americans living in the area described in the immediate aftermath of the murders is a sense that the growing anti-Asian hate crime around the country has not suddenly visited Atlanta but has become so violent and come so close as to be personal, and terrifying. There’s a sense among many that it’s hunting season, and they are the prey.

 “I don’t really know [them],” Shan tells me of the people working at the two Atlanta spas, Gold and Aromatherapy, that were attacked shortly after Young’s Asian Massage spa was targeted outside of the city. The Atlanta stores were owned and staffed by Koreans, Shan says matter-of-factly before what sounds like sadness sets in. “I feel sorry for their families. It’s just their American dream just gone, you know, just shot.”

I wasn’t sure if Shan was speaking metaphorically about destroyed dreams or actual gun shots. Then he mentions the state of U.S. gun control. A woman working as a massage therapist for Shan had already told him that a customer brought a loaded gun into one of the massage rooms not long ago. The woman had no idea the man was armed until the man decided to check the gun in his bag after his massage.

As Shan and I talk, customers arrive and customers go. Some stop at the front desk to pay before leaving. A Black woman in white clogs is meeting a friend and wants the sugar foot scrub. Another Black woman in a red sweater and black ballet slippers needs to pay and thanks Shan. She’s feeling so relaxed after her massage, her smile is almost detectable behind a black and white cloth mask. Later, a white man in jeans, a long sleeved-button down shirt and flip flops arrives for a massage appointment.

No one, not even the white woman who arrives later looking for security camera footage that may have captured an accident outside the store involving her teenage son, mentions the shootings. It’s as if this immaculately clean lobby with modern stuffed brown chairs and the faint scent of vanilla in the air is another world, separate from the one outside.