Friday, March 26, 2021

How About The Fancy Asian Human Traffickers And Local Government(s) Looking The Other Way?

CJR  |  Meanwhile, coverage of the shooting by national media outlets remained vague; reporters seemed reluctant (or were unable) to find details about the victims or pick up reports from the Korean press. Instead, the mainstream press published profiles of the shooter. And when the Atlanta Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on Wednesday morning, the press raced to take down the official statement, which uncritically echoed the suspect’s claims that he suffered from sexual addiction, and which minimized the role of racial animus in his motivation for the killing spree. 

Lee, who had worked the police beat in Korea earlier in his career, was in disbelief. “I’ve never before seen a case where the police suggest: ‘The suspect said it wasn’t the case, therefore it’s not the case,’ ” he says. Worse, the press replicated the official statement in headlines and presented it as breaking news. In most news pieces, the spokesperson’s words were treated as self-explanatory, without additional context or questions. “It was almost as though the press believed what was said to be correct, like they wanted it to be the case,” Lee says.  

To Lee, the official statement was “clearly too absurd to repeat.” He felt no obligation to cover the press conference or to recite the spokesperson’s words. Instead, Atlanta K ran a story that recounted the community response to the official statement, titled: “ ‘Does a bad day mean you can kill someone?’: white police officers’ protection of a white murderer.” 

The press corrected course a day later, but already, public perception of the suspect’s racist and anti-Asian motives had been muddied. The shooter’s explanation for the murders—sex addiction—had been widely circulated, giving weight to long-standing associations between Asian-owned massage shops and illicit sex work. Investigations into the spas in the past week cited suggestive customer reviews and a history of police raids (some of which had been undertaken wrongfully, Lee says), in effect imputing criminality to the women. The media should ask if it is meaningful to determine whether the victims had been offering sexual services, and whether such questions are worth stigmatizing the deceased women and risking harm to family members and other spa workers. This also means that survivors, who have long lived under the radar—fearful of losing their livelihoods and immigration statuses—feel discouraged from talking publicly. “Unless they have immense courage, it’s improbable for these women to want to put themselves out there,” Lee says. 

From the beginning, Lee had feared this sort of scrutiny. Reporters for national media outlets had asked him about criminal activity at the spas, to which he declined to respond. Why speculate on a question that lacks clear relevance to the story at hand? Already, the women have been unfairly immortalized in association with their place of work. The spas could never be a full reflection of who the women were; they were survival jobs—jobs the women might have worked tirelessly to retire from, had they been allowed to live out their lives.